A Tail for Samhain

 

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As a small child, before bed, I would sit on the fourth tread of our green carpeted stairs and gaze up at the hill through an old sash window. Along the ridge-top was a big, dark eyebrow shape, solid against a moving sky. I’d scan the darkness below for an eye, another, tracing a full face from low-lit cottages and steep leas. My childhood was full of these matter-imaginings.

One late Halloween, my mother found me and warned me to go to bed. If I didn’t listen, the witches would fly down from those trees and take me to their coven. If this should happen, there would be nothing she could do to help. I would be lost for good.

Instead of fear, I felt excitement. What was a coven? I needed to know. My mother sighed and we climbed the stairs towards my room. What would it feel like to fly? What would this witch look like? And, importantly, would there be a magic black cat, with flame-orange eyes and tail for a wand? I got into bed with a kiss from my mother and stared at closed curtains, flying witches filling the night beyond.

As I grew older, still quite small ~ smaller than would be allowed these days ~ I’d climb the hill alone to look for witches beneath those towering trees. I’d seat myself on my coat by a soft, green lane and wait in great expectation. But the witches never showed and neither did the cat.

Sometimes, a gust would whistle through, as if from nowhere. And the leaves and my long hair, would chop like a restless sea. After a few hours, the trees themselves felt like friends, each individual and treasured by me. I imagined them as Tolkienish ents, limbs around each other, gathered in moot for great messages to be sent through the winds to all other trees.

I couldn’t touch their gnarled, crackled bark, because they were growing from an overgrown hedge full of hedghogs and berries. But I knew their skin well, and would recognise it forever more ~ Black Poplar.

One day, there was a violent storm, with a full suite of gale, rain, thunder and lightning. I sat on on my stairs and gazed again through imperfect glass. The familiar shape of the entmoot had altered. There were gaps, and it was is as if my whole childhood had turned on a sixpence. The familiar, the obliquely safe, my friendships had fractured, and I felt rocked. I ran to my parents in the kitchen ~ did they know what had happened? My father came to my window and peered through the glass.

“Wind-throw, the storm must have brought them down,” and he calmly returned to his newspaper.

But my life had changed for good, never to be the same. I couldn’t understand why no-one else felt as I did.

Over the next few years, chainsaws took others. These wise old ents were weak without the limbs of each other. All were now gone, and along with them, my hope of finding the witches and cat. I rushed up the steep lanes and spoke to the men who took the last trees. As they threw dead poplar into their trailers, I asked them why the trees were felled. “Unsafe,” they murmured, not wishing to engage any further.

And that was it. I kept walking, angry under steam. No-one had thought to ask me. These were my tree-people. I loved and longed for them. It was real pain. This little girl receded and vanished, along with the trees ~ one large step beyond the age of innocence.

“So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.” Hermann Hesse, Bäume.

I still have the memories of the trees and of my little-girl-self. I remember the sash window and the vivid green carpet of the stairs. Somewhere in my mind there are even the witches, their faces and hands. All now exist, entwined, seemingly more real than real. Maybe the cat, brought on a gust of wind, had swished his magic tail after all.

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Photo via Wallpaperwide.com

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Onto a Vast Plain, Rilke

 

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Isle of Lewis, by me.

“You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.”


Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows’ translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours

Esranebulous

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I have not found a word to describe the uncanny light as a result of carbon atoms from the deaths of a living forest, dust and cloud originating in Iberia, drifting across Europe, pulled by unusual storm forces. The continental nature of the disturbance invited me to look at proto indo-european roots to form such a word.

This is what I have found ~

blood cloud/haze / esr nebhis

So, I offer the word esranebulous.

Ghostlight of the Anthropocene. I hope such a word would not have to be used often.

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Ghostlight of the Anthropocene

Sepia light seeps into my consciousness.

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Monday morning came and went. I expected wind-lash Ophelia to clip us hard here in Cardiff and I battened down in readiness. Instead, thick clouds loomed and a strange sepia tone infiltrated every corner of my being. In my eyes, across my forearms, inside my head.

I looked up at white exterior walls, knowing them to be white, yet they were not. The uncanniness altered my mental state. There was an ominousness to all and yet I felt excited. I looked out across the rooftops and towards the hills and felt disrupted, deeply distracted. I couldn’t work so observed the birds as they too observed the skies.

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That this could be Saharan dust swept over the sea in the periferal surge of Storm Ophelia tricked me into feeling sanguine. If it nurtures the Amazon Rainforest, I considered, it might even enrich our soils. Such is our interconnected biosphere.

But forest fire smoke is different. Forest fire smoke is the carbon atoms of the recently dead, like the carbon atoms which rise from the crematorium chimney. Forest fires, fanned by Ophelia, killed 40 people or more, and countless wild lives in Portugal and Spain, including hundreds of thousands of sentient trees. These atoms filled a whole sky, from horizon to horizon. Online, I gazed at strangely ironic, chromatic radar maps. This was continental, as was my realisation.

Ghosts.

The sepia light is still distracting me, long after it has blown away in a stiff northeasterly. The hurricane, the wildfires sparked by arson, all anthropogenic in magnitude. And even the Sahara itself:

“Humans don’t exist in ecological vacuums,” says Archaeologist David Wright. “We are a keystone species and, as such, we make massive impacts on the entire ecological complexion of the Earth. Some of these can be good for us, but some have really threatened the long-term sustainability of the Earth.”

We are each keystone beings, potential fluminists.

We cause, and we effect. Everyone of us, agents.

Collectively, we can do better than tone our world with the ghosts of our kin. I hope I never see it again, but I have given it a name ~ Esranebulous.

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Beavers are Fluminists

My essay at requisite Zoomorphic. Introducing Fluminism ~ protection & proliferation of wild processes, a vital form of love.

Autumn Senescence, Planet Valens.

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Photo by me.

The nights are drawing close here in Wales, and the earliest Autumnal tones cloak the hills to the South West of the city. From my top-floor flat, I have watched the deciduous Leckwith Woods green-up and brown-down. I remember all as a time-lapse scene, though winter is yet to come.

From afar, the hills appear motionless, though shades of brown have turned to bright lime green, darkening to rust and mustard yellows. Wisps of dragon’s breath ~ transpiration ~ sometimes appear, but the skies above are endlessly restless, cloud fronts billowing in kaleidoscope spaces. All forms, at once plump and evanish, clear mostly to the North West. I have become a sky-watcher.

Yes, the leaves are dying. But the trees are not. I am witnessing leaf senescence, the last stage of life leading to the death of the leaf and the birth of the bud. As with all life, through space-time, this a process with purpose, interconnected and rare in our universe. It’s an orderly process too, a sonata with beat and chord progression, ancient music crucial for deciduous plant resilience.

In the sun-months, the leaves of the woodland canopy snatch power from the sun and store it by carbon fixation as sugars and biomass. When the trees are topped-up with all that is needed for winter, every spent leaf becomes a liability. A full solar canopy acts like a vast sail, and as depressions deepen and barometers drop, gales can pull a tree over, worse still, taking others along with it. Before the rapid change of climate, of which we are both perpetrator and witness, temperate zones have been prone to snow, the additional weight a burden to a tree with a large surface area. So the tree sheds its leaves, a teleological response to adverse conditions.

The tiny leaf cells undergo huge physiological, biochemical and metabolic changes, increasing oxidation and hydrolysis of molecules ~ proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. Hydrolyzed, they are sucked from the leaf into a newly forming bud. More are stored deep down in the roots for next year’s vernal burst of leaf and flower.

The crescendo of yellows and oranges are revealed by the breakdown of green chlorophylls in chloroplasts. The reds are sugar-boosts; the more sugar, the brighter the red. Like a conjurer before an audience, what was always there can now be seen. And we humans find the show an aesthetic wonder, a cultural meme of the season of Fall. Harvest was once the traditional English term. So many of us now live in cities, with produce sold all-year-round, Harvest seems almost obsolete. Yet it really is not. Locally grown, seasonal, organic food is the best. Perhaps, we should consider restoring the name Harvest for Autumn, in a secular sense. It may help in the drive to reconnect our collective psyche with nature.

I wonder what owl makes of Harvest, or fox. Is it time to celebrate the efforts of the sun-months, and hunker down for winter? I think so, for these too are the old human ways. If one is an insect, things might be different. The brighter the leaf colour, the more toxic a threat, a biological theory gaining momentum but not yet at consensus. Up close, within touch, different species track light reflecting from leaves in many different ways. We are the same ~ kin ~ but not the same. The Unity of Opposites lives strong in the woods.

Once the leaves are discarded, hardwood limbs are left naked and rounded, so the Arctic blasts can whip through with minimal resistance. Eventually, the annual symphony of the woods softens to diminuendo and a deep winter silence. There’s more. Each tree-type has its own structure and cortiform (itself, life-giving), an ethnicity evolved over eons. Water is metered to the risk of frost, and it posseses its very own whip-speed of flex and length of reach. When a woodland is in full succession, and there is an abundant mix of species, each crown sways at its own pace. The intervals and crown shyness allow both room and gentle friction to slow down the movements, reducing the risk of harm in a storm. Between gusts, the canopy quietens, a touch of stillness like the pause between symphonic movements, and the next gust will cue the orchestra to play on. The rippling touch of the crowns, whilst roots and hyphae embrace beneath the soil means the woodland withstands the onslaught. Chemical signals are abound in the air, and it would not surprise me if there’s a collective sigh of relief when the winds eventually die down.

Woodlands are more than food chains, their ecology akin to microbiological holobionts with a collective DNA, a silvis-hologenome. They are community, koinonia, a multi-ethnic group hug. In fellowship, they protect all ages, generate biodiversity and provide resilience in time of great need. A plethora of fluministic waves of life flow in multiple directions and this, I assert, is a vital form of love. Testament to evolutionary co-operation, succession has the advantage of seasonal knowing ~ the woodland ‘knows’ which species grows best, with whom and where. We humans may claim stewardship, but are biased towards our own needs rather than to those of the silvis-hologenome. We’ve poured carbon into the atmosphere and expect newly planted woods to correct our wrongdoings. But when we know only such a small fraction of the complexities of nature, and we plant a forest, we do so largely blind and deaf. I think we need to take a breath. The biosphere is in rapid change, and it may serve us well to remember the value of evolved wildness, adaptation and woodland succession.

Even so, the husk of the leaf will fall in spins and flares, helped by the elements that have pressed and shaped their very existence. On the ground, they become exposed to the living rhizosphere, warmed by the energy exuded by the process of decomposition and decay, consumed and recycled as soils for nursing the next generation from fruits, seeds and nuts. Understanding the microbiology beneath trees has vast potential, but we must be cautious in the aspirations of a corporate agenda to patent nature for profit. Mixed with crystalline minerals and H2O, the essence of tree will be drawn back through the roots and into the wood-mass for years of growth to come. Such timeworn processes deserve our highest respect. In the city, solitary trees are dysjunct from community, yet they also shed leaves, only for them to be swept or blown away, deemed by insurers as a mere slipping hazard. They are left to grab whatever they can to survive, the carbon we blithely pump into the atmosphere, the minerals from the pavias we lay, and the polluted run-off from our roads and carparks that kill their soils. Surely, we can do more for the trees that bring so much joy, especially in the season of Autumn.

Leaf senescence on Planet Valens ~ such beauty in process, a reflection of season, of our own roots in Harvest, but a resilience of community and exquisite symphony of life flow. We are part of nature, a late edition, and we’ve so much to learn. And at a time when we may need them more than ever, it is prudence to consider, we are all still new to the trees.

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