A very short story

Old friends

Tilly's morning: visiting her friend Old Oak to tell him all her news. She doesn't like going to the vet so often, but she likes coming home the long way by the river. She doesn't like her bitter medicine, but she likes the treats she gets afterwards. She doesn't like seeing Howard packing again, but she likes that he's home with us now. She likes that a lot.

Among the roots

She's seen ponies in the field today, heard a robin singing above the leat, and ate her first blackberries of the season. Last night she had some cheese after dinner, and cheese is her very favourite thing. She hopes Old Oak gets treats like this too.

"I do," he assures his friend. "I get visits from you.

Oak and hound


A very short story

Tilly & Old Oak

Tilly has been visiting her friend Old Oak and telling him about everything she's been through: illness, lameness, walks curtailed, too many pills and visits to the vet...while one of her People keeps going away to a job in Cornwall, and the other disappeared for a whole long week.

"You've been brave and stout of heart," he says.

Tilly & Old Oak 2

He's right. She has been.

Tilly & Old Oak 3


The Tree Tribe

Borderlands by Celia de Serra

The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, they do tell tales, they sing when the've a mind to, they are gigglers, gossips, grumblers, cataloguing every ache and pain, and yet they hold no grudges, claim no debts, speak ill of no creature. They have their tempers, yes, tantrums of branches lashed in gusts and gales, but then they come to rest in stillness, spent, humming contentedly. You've heard them, just yesterday. You thought it was only the wind.

River Valley by Celia de Serra

The thing you need to know is that each morning every tree stands tall and chants its name, its history, its kinship web and lineage. You've heard them, dear, but thought it was the dawn chorus of birds.

Summer Nights by Celia de Serra

The thing you need to know is that the trees tell stories older than the oldest tales of humankind. By dusk, by night, by starlight, you have marked their midnight murmuring -- you told me so, but thought it was just water rushing through the stream.

Toward This Place Lightly by Celia de Serra

The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, in their own language. They mutter in the crackle autumn leaves; they sigh as snow settles at their feet; they utter exquisite arboreal poems as each tender young leaf unfurls; they laugh in shivers of green and gold when tickled by a summer's breeze.

Still There by Celia de Serra

The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, in the tree language. And yes, you will understand their speech one day, root child, sweet sapling.

Still Here Too by Celia de Serra

West Borders by Celia de Serra

The beautiful drawings today are by British artist Celia de Serra, who was born in Canterbury in 1973, received a BA in Fine Art and English Literature from Exeter University in 1995, and now exhibits her work extensively throughout the UK. De Serra is a founding member of The Arborealists, a group of contemporary artists dedicated to the subject of trees. Her art has appeared in Under the Greenwood: Picturing the British Tree and other publications.

"I live in the Welsh borders in the hills near Offa’s Dyke," she writes. "I spend a lot of time out and about walking and cycling armed with a Ordinance Survey Map, sketchbook and camera. I look for inspiring places and images that have something about them and an emotional hook. Light is particularly important to me -- the way in which it can transform something small, or illuminate a place in a curious or dramatic way. Always a painter, I returned to drawing several years ago and this has become my primary medium at the moment; I love the directness of drawing, the marks, the tonal variations and the capacity to build up layers and depth without the confusion that colour can sometimes bring to form."

To see more of de Serra's work, visit her website, her Instagram page, and The Arborealists site.

Flux by Celia de Serra

Seven Little Tales from Hedgespoken Press

Words: "The Tree Tribe" is one of seven little pieces of mine published in Seven Little Tales (Hedgespoken Press, 2018). 

Pictures: The drawings above are: Borderlands,  River Valley, Summer Nights, Towards This Place Lightly, Still There,  Still Here Too, West Borders, and Flux by Celia de Serra. All rights reserved by the artist.


Telling stories

Winter Beech by David Wyatt

In "Hallowed Ground," Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder discusses the importance of myth and story in countering the narratives that foster the ecological destruction of our world. Steinauer-Scudder's essay is focused on the work of theologian Martin Palmer, exploring how the sacred stories of world religion can change the world for the better (or worse) -- but secular stories are powerful too. As storytellers, myth-makers and artists of all stripes, what kind of narratives are we creating? And are we cognizant of their potency? Steinauer-Scudder writes: Gidleigh Goat by David Wyatt

"There are Theravada Buddhist monks in Thailand who follow the Buddha’s example of meditating in natural settings, particularly beneath trees; they have a practice of going into the forest during the rainy season of Phansa and building small huts, where they remain for several months to meditate. Traditionally, when the huts appeared, it was understood that human beings were not to disturb or damage the surrounding forest; it became an extension of the monks’ prayers and practice: sacred land.

"Thailand and Cambodia have seen some of the most devastating logging and clear-cutting in a world where 18.7 million acres of forest across the globe are lost to deforestation annually. Between 1961 and 1998, an estimated two-thirds of Thailand’s remaining forest was destroyed. In the 1980s, the logging effort increased and entire forests began to disappear, sometimes in the course of a single day.

"In 1988 the excessive deforestation of a mountainside led to a landslide, exacerbating floods and killing over three hundred people. The monks saw the land suffering and the people suffering as a result. A small number of monks began to reexamine Buddhist scriptures, seeking ways to protect the forests through traditional rituals and teachings. The Buddha taught that all things are interconnected, that the health of the whole is bound to the health of every sentient being. If you harm rivers, trees, animals, soil, you harm yourself. Some of the monks began to intentionally seek out threatened and illegally logged forests for their Phansa meditation, but it became increasingly dangerous for them. Some were assassinated.

"And then one monk began a practice of ordaining trees. After locating the oldest and largest trees in a forest, he -- in the presence of members of his surrounding lay community -- recited the appropriate scripture and then wrapped the trees in traditional orange robes, just as is done for a novice monk. The practice has spread across Thailand and into Cambodia. Most loggers will not commit the taboo of harming a monk, even if that monk is a tree.

Tilly and Old Oak

" 'We are a narrative species. The faiths are successful because they tell bloody good stories and they adapt them as they go along,' Martin is telling me over a coffee break in Bristol. 'So all across Southeast Asia, there are these trees that have been ordained as monks, and that means that within a sort of half-mile penumbra of that, it’s sacred. There’s no way a Cambodian or a Thai is going to cut down a monk tree.' ARC has worked with monks in Thailand and Cambodia to set up environmental-education centers, trainings, and awareness campaigns. It helped to found ABE, the Association of Buddhists for the Environment, a network of monks and nuns grounded in Buddhist teachings and traditions. 'It’s been very local, very specific [work]. And most of it is built on the fact that, whatever else is gone, a sense that a sacred place is something other still remains.'

Once upon a time"It’s this sense of place and the stories that go along with it, Martin says, that can become catalysts for change. When it comes to addressing ecological degradation and potential collapse, most of us have not been telling the right ones. A transformative story, when told at the right time in the right place, has the ability to alter the course of things. 'There’s only two things that have ever done that successfully in history: art and religion. And for most of history, they’ve been synonymous,' Martin says. ARC works with Jains in India, Shintōists in Japan, Taoists in China, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians—operating on the belief that religion has consistently told humanity’s most enduring stories, that parable can be more effective than science, that myths are more powerful than data.

"As we wend our way through the city, I’m beginning to picture Martin as a real-life, intellectual version of Roald Dahl’s BFG: a lanky, well-intentioned giant who roams the globe, but instead of collecting dreams and delivering them to sleeping children, he is collecting stories. Fables and myths, parables and songs. His life’s work has been to pull forward or uncover narratives from traditions and texts, and support local faith communities in doing the same."

Fetching Water by David Wyatt

Oak

Later in the piece, Steinauer-Scudder adds a note of caution:

Acorn by David Wyatt"To seek and reveal stories on behalf of others is, in many ways, a fraught strategy; it can carry the odor of imposition when it comes from outside a local culture. But in a time when perhaps the most imposing and pervasive story of all -- consumerism -- is driving species to extinction, deforesting lands, fueling wildfires in the American West, and depleting topsoil and the oceans, one wonders how we can help one another to turn our attention and efforts to different ends. How can we remember that stories, too, have agency? ARC, as an organization, is international, but its lifeblood is comprised of communities around the world, each facing their own version of environmental crisis, each working within the narratives and traditions that have shaped its landscapes and identities. Such stories cannot be arbitrarily deposited. In order to thrive, they need fertile soil, a caring hand, relationship, understanding, shared history. When the conditions are right, they can root themselves or unfurl a new leaf.

Devon oaks in the making

“'[Religion is] not the silver bullet,' Martin says. It certainly should not be left to faith communities alone to cultivate the stories that might begin to heal a world in crisis, environmentally and spiritually. But he does believe that religion holds our most enduring stories, told again and again throughout the ages, even when humanity sometimes uses them to destructive ends. Secular communities can look to the faiths as examples of what it means to embody powerful narratives. Religious or no, we can find new ways to tell ancient stories. New language to bring people back to an ancient understanding.

" 'Human beings are capable of extraordinary change if given the space to do it,' says Martin. 'Not by fear, and not by data. But by story.'”

Spinning Moonlight by David Wyatt

I highly recommend reading Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder's "Hallowed Ground" in full in Emergence Magazine. You'll find it here. The wondrous art today is by our good friend David Wyatt, a great lover of trees and stories. To learn more about his work, go here.

Tilly rests in the roots of Old Oak

A cluster of Devon leaves

Words: The two passages above are quoted from "Hallowed Ground" by Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder, published in Emergence Magazine (January 15, 2019); all rights reserved by the author. Emergence, by the way, is terrific, if you're not reading it already.

Pictures: The paintings above are Winter Beech, Gidleigh Goat, Fetching Water, Acorn, and Spinning Moonlit by David Wyatt; all rights reserved by the artist.


Standing on the shoulders of giants

Old Oak 1

I've just finished reading Kent Nerburn's Dancing With the Gods: Reflections on Art & Life, and I'd like to pass on a final passage from the book discussing artistic influence -- not as a thing to be wary of but, rather, to be celebrated. He writes:

Arthur Rackham"One of the great joys of the creative life is getting to live in dialogue with works of genius that have been created by artists who have proceeded us. We observe their work across the barriers of time and space, and they become our brothers and sisters who have walked a path that shows us, however dimly, our own way forward.

"I remember vividly the exhilaration I felt in my teenage years when I first encountered Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Night Flight. For the first time, I realized that writing was more than topic sentences and supporting statements. I would hide under my covers at night and try, by lamplight, in my own stumbling way, to create sentences that sang like his.

"And then there was the moment when I came across a stream-of-consciousness passage in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath that was like no prose I had read before. For weeks, in the hidden pages of my school notebook, I struggled to describe the world around me in the same fragmentary, cinematic manner. The experience came again as I read the works of Carl Sandburg and, later, studied the sculptures of Donatello. These artists spoke to me across time and space and became my secret friends and mentors. In my heart of hearts I dreamed of creating like they could create, and I did what I could to learn the secrets that lived inside their works.

"We who work in the arts stand unashamedly upon the shoulders of those who came before. In the secrecy of our creative lives we try to do what those who have inspire us have done. We trace their lines, we copy their movements; we mimic their prose, we practice their phrasings. Whether with a brush or a chisel, our body or a pen or our voices, we try to enter into their creative decisions by recreating those decisions in our own work.

"It is not mere copying; it is mentoring. It is letting our hands and hearts and minds be guided by theirs. To know how Nureyev achieved the muscularity of his expression, or how Donatello carved a risk, or how Willie Nelson phrased a song, we must attempt it ourselves. We must inhabit the experience and try to make it our own in order to see the choices that were made. We are, in effect letting them become our teachers."

Fairies at work by Arthur Rackham

This is exactly what I was trying to get at in an essay of mine, "On Influence," published back in 2011. You can find it here. Ten years on from writing that piece, I'd love to hear your thoughts about artistic influence and the role it has (or hasn't) played in the development of your work.

Old Oak 3

Old Oak 3

Words: The passage above is from Dancing With the Gods: Reflections on Life and Art by Kent Nerburn (Canongate, 2018); all rights reserved by the author. The poem in the picture captions is from The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov (New Directions, 2013); all rights reserved by the Levertov estate. 

Paintings: Two illustrations by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) for Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie. Photographs: Tilly stops for her daily visit with her good friend Old Oak.