A Dartmoor Beltane

The Deepwood


Today, as a glorious riot of wildflowers emerges in the woodland behind my studio, I'd like to re-visit a post from 2013 with wildflower lore in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images see to see them.)

"To understand the wild you must understand the wood," writes Robert Macfarlane (in his gorgeous book The Wild Places). "For civilization, as the historian Robert Pogue Harrison writes, 'literally cleared its space in the midst of forests.' For millennia, 'a sylvan fringe of darkness defined the limits of cultivation, the margins of its cities, the boundaries of its domains, but also the extravagance of its imagination.'

The Foxglove path.

"Although the disappearance of the true wildwood [in the British Isles] occurred in the Neolithic period, before humanity began to record its own history, creation myths in almost all cultures look fabulously back to a forested earth. In the ancient Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, the quest-story which begins world literature, Gilgamesh sets out on his journey from Uruk to the Cedar Mountains, where he has been charged to slay the Huwawa, the guardian of the forest. The Roman empire also defined itself against the forests in which its capital city was first established, and out of which its founders, the wolf-suckled twins, emerged. It was the Roman Empire which would proceed to destroy the dense forests of the ancient world.

Wild woodland orchid

Wild poppies

"The association of the wild and the wood also run deep in etymology. The two words are thought to have grown out of the root word wald and the old Teutonic word walthus, meaning 'forest.' Walthus entered Old English in its variant forms of 'weald,' 'wald,' and 'wold,' which were used to designate both 'a wild place' and 'a wooded place,' in which wild creatures -- wolves, foxes, bears -- survived. The wild and wood also graft together in the Latin word silva, which means 'forest,' and from which emerged the idea of 'savage,' with its connotations of fertility....

Blue Sicklewort

Woodland cranesbill

"The deepwood is vanished in these islands -- much, indeed, had vanished before history began -- but we are still haunted by the idea of it. The deepwood flourishes in our architecture, art and above all in our literature. Unnumbered quests and voyages have taken place through and over the deepwood, and fairy tales and dream-plays have been staged in its glades and copses. Woods have been a place of inbetweenness, somewhere one might slip from one world to another, or one time to a former: in Kipling's story 'Puck of Pook's Hill,' it is by right of 'Oak and Ash and Thorn' that the children are granted their ability to voyage back into English history.

The magic of dogs

"There is no mystery in this association of woods and otherworlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of color, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a streambed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their color rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.

Oak elder

"Woods and forests have been essentialt to the imagination of these islands, and of countries throughout the world, for centuries. It is for this reason that when woods are felled, when they are suppressed by tarmac and concrete and asphalt, it is not only unique species and habitats that disappear, but also unique memories, unique forms of thought."

Tilly in the woodsThe passage above is from The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane (Granta, 2007); all rights reserved by the author. I highly recommend all of Macfarlane's books,  as well as his lastest article on the importance of Britain's wild space.