The Great Events?

55BCE, 597CE, 793CE, 1066CE, 1282CE, 1534CE, 1588CE, 1649CE, 1707CE, 1714CE, 1922CE…  pick your date for an event or series of events that define England, or Britain. There are others, and the ones I have chosen may say more about my poor historical knowledge or prejudice than anything. There are also occurrences which pass without comment at the time or which we cannot date certainly because no record exists: when really does Britain cease to be Roman? Or when did the last wolf die? Why does one date matter? Will the referendum on 23rd June 2016 be eclipsed by a final unequivocal date or will that be the one history picks as the The Date We Left Europe? The Date Things Changed?

We cannot dictate, and maybe can’t predict with certainty. Perhaps something else will intervene to take precedence – the failure of electricity, a catastrophic event such as the melting of the polar ice? What does strike me is that this simplistic history suggests that one date was important, and that the messiness before or after are somehow lesser occurrences that don’t matter. And that the massive changes were not contested, opposed, or that those who did contest were ridiculed, sacked, sidelined, imprisoned, killed. I feel as if I signed the Terms and Conditions for C21st without reading them, and I think of Tom Holland’s brilliant book on the Millennium, where in effect Western Europe did try and sign particular Ts&Cs only to find a new millennium just as complex and hard. A single date just doesn’t work. 1066 is one date: do we (and I need to exclude historians here, of course) consider the harrying of the North?

The counsellors in the decades/centuries of Christian consolidation; subjugated  Saxons after the death of Harold in 1066; recusant Catholics – all these people would attest that these great events are never simple. These “events that shaped Britain” were the cause of pain and unquiet: families divided, economic disturbance… and we are seeing the same in our time, in ways I never thought to see, never wanted to see. “Project Fear,” in which the UK suffers terrible upheaval, may not come to pass, or it may – but this evening I am wondering quite what will come. I suspect it’s going to be big, and an unpleasant change. I am gloomy, and predict a rowing back from liberties won, well-being improved. I feel the sharp tug of solastalgia.

Why is this part of this blog? Over the next few days I will have the pleasure of being outside with learners of various kinds. Some theory, lots of practice: a challenge for me, but a very welcome one. I will be making a plea – directly and indirectly – for the pleasure of being outside to be seen as a driver of a life well lived. Ecological wrongdoing in the Anthropocene will impact on people’s wellbeing; economic changes, greed and “austerity” planning may mean that parks and woodland will change. But I hope that people – maybe the young people I meet or the families they will work with – will still see the energy of plants and bugs and the movement of clouds and look for joy and delight and maybe transcendence.

Because all these things are transient, this Jeremiad included. And I think that with the little time I have, I want to help people find joy in the small things, and see our interconnectedness with bigger ones:

I want you to walk out into the fields
where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with the mud, like a blessing.

Yes, Mary Oliver does it again, this time in her poem Rice.

Underland Thoughts II

More selections and thoughts arising from them as I revisit Rob Macfarlane’s Underland. Again, quotations will dominate, with the uncomfortable balancing act of celebrating a great work and wanting to preserve its voice, yet not wanting simply to reproduce it. If you have got this far with me and haven’t bought the book, maybe you should. I am tempted to buy another copy and have it interleaved so I can take note after note.

To back track a little. The previous post left the author in a storm by the caves of ancient cave art, where his journey is remembered

…mostly as metals. Silver of the pass. Iron of the bay and its clouds. Rare gold of the sky. Zinc of the storm in its full fury. Bronze and copper of the sea to the south as I escape.   p254*

We are still, in ch 9, in Norway, now looking at the Maelstrom,

the underland of the sea   p291

and the complexities of the economics of oil and fishing. The pace changes, and human characters – never far from the narrative throughout most of Underland – are more important. Human geography – and our need to sanitise our use of resources:

Those industries [extracting oil] understand the market need for alienated labour, hidden infrastructure and the strategic concealment of both the slow violence of environmental degradation and the quick violence of accidents.   p311

I had not heard the term solastalgia, the “distress cause by environmental change,” so this is eye-opening:

the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control… We might consider John Clare a solastalgic poet, witnessing his native Northamptonshire countryside disrupted by enclosure in the 1810s… a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognizable by climate change or corporate action: the home becomes unhomely around its inhabitants.   p317

and we walk a shoreline of human detritus.

Nature is no longer only a remote peak shining in the sun or a raptor hunting over birch woods – it is also tidelines thickened with drift plastic, or methane clathrates decomposing over millions of square miles of warming permafrost.   p321

Kulusk now, in Greenland, and the global melt releasing anthrax and revealing hidden military bases.

unweder – unweather  p334

and

uggianaqtuq – to behave strangely  p335

and because this section is about exploration of the underland of Greenland, Rob gives us a meditation on ice:

Ice has a memory. It remembers in detail and it remembers for a million years or more.

Ice remembers forest fires and rising sea. Ice remembers the chemical composition of the air around the start of the last Ice Age, 110,000 years ago. It remembers  how many days of sunshine fell upon it in a summer 50,000 years ago.  It remembers the temperature in the clouds at a moment of snowfall early in the Holocene… It remembers the smelting boom of the Romans…

Ice has a memory and the colour of this memory is blue.   p337-8

And then we are off into a glacial landscape where orange lichens and emerald leaves of dwarf willow stand out. The boom of breaking ice, and in the Northern Lights

The mountains shoot jade searchlights into space.     p346

Rob descends into a moulin, a meltwater shaft in a glacier,

a portal giving access to the blue underland of ice.   p369

and witnesses – with a vivid, almost Chthulhu-like horror a short quotation could not reproduce – the upsurge of a massive berg, ice broken from a glacier.

The penultimate section, ch 12, is no less shocking: our exploration of the “tomb” (RMc’s word) or deep storage facility for our nuclear waste:

The tombs that we have constructed to receive these remains are known as geological repositories, and they are the Cloaca Maxima – the Great Sewer – of our species.    p400

They are designed to outlast us, something I find appalling. And even though much of what we create will outlast the individual maker, this is legacy on an altogether different scale.  Death haunts so much of this book – echoing the human pattern of burial to preserve or to conceal – until we meet the challenge:

What legacies will we leave behind, not only for the generations that succeed us, but also for the epochs and species that will come after ours? Are we being good ancestors?     p410

How do we tell these people/these creatures of a time to come not to disturb the toxic giant we are interring?

Oh, Underland has so much more, even in my own reading, IMG_0149to highlight, to praise, to explore, to discuss, but this is a book to read slowly and then to return to. These notes are for me, really, and some of what I see or connect with seems nefas to share here.   As a final non-sharing, I will say that the last, short section, a return home like in The Wild Places, reduced me to tears.

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*Page references are to Macfarlane, R (2019). Underland: a deep time journey. London: Hamish Hamilton.

NB The Guardian has a resource of stuff they have produced around Robert Macfarlane, which includes his own very thoughtful illustrated essay arising out of Underland.

Underland Thoughts I

I’m not sure this isn’t really something for a Wild Spaces Wild Magic research page rather than a couple of blog posts, nor am I entirely sure what I can add to the massive work that is Rob Macfarlane’s Underland,  a moving, detailed, Bible Moralisée C66033DA-9011-4149-85C3-F6FC8F658B52that looks at landscape and souterane and human uses for and vision of the spaces we find or create.

Then don’t.

OK, instead I’m going to put together some of the images and lines that give me most to think about, whether in terms of the brilliance of their wordsmithing or because their message is worth pondering.

That’s not to say loads more isn’t wonderful: just go read it and make your mind up yourself.  I’m not copying the book out or appropriating the ideas: mine is an idiosyncratic selection (a bit of commentary may sometimes set a context), a few lines from a massive work that deserves a good slow read.  I said in my initial review on Goodreads how this could be a scripture for our time; perhaps this is my Lectio Divina.

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There is a lot to ponder in the opening pages:

I have often noticed how claustrophobia – much more so than vertigo – retains its disturbing power even when being experienced indirectly as narrative or description. p12*

This is the point at which Rob caught me, by moving from this into Garner’s claustrophobic description of the Alderley tunnels in Weirdstone and then into Gilgamesh.

Our ‘flat perspectives’ feel increasingly inadequate to the deep worlds we inhabit, and to the deep time legacies we are leaving. p13

then

…to think in deep time can be a means not of escaping our troubled present, but rather of re-imagining it; countermanding its quick greeds and furies with older, slower stories of making an unmaking. p15

The second chapter, Burial, is set in Britain.

We are often more tender to the dead than to the living, though it is the living who need our tenderness most. p27

It concerns cave-repository of the dead, but also the tragic death of Neil Moss, an early autumn descent in the Mendips to where

Language is crushed p49

Ch 3 moves to the intense research hidden from the noise of particles in Yorkshire, linked in the book to the network of (nearby and further afield, now ruined) Cistercian Abbeys

in which prayers were offered to a presence disinclined to disclose itself to the usual beseechings p67.

R S Thomas’s voice echoing quite literally de profundis, as Rob moves us past the Komodo Dragon-like mining machinery to a discussion of the term Anthropocene, and how we have reached here. This is one of my favourite passages, and will have to stand for so many:

We all carry trace fossils within us – the marks that the dead and the missed leave behind. Handwriting on an envelope; the wear on a wooden step left by footfall; the memory of a familiar gesture by someone gone, repeated so often it has worn its own groove in both air and mind: these are trace fossils too. Sometimes, in fact, all that is left behind by loss is trace – and sometimes empty volume can be easier to hold in the heart than presence itself.  p 79

If someone finds this blog and is wondering what to read at my funeral, that’s the passage.

The wood-wide web, discussed as we explore Epping Forest in Ch 4 is an idea so powerful I am still digesting it. Some beautiful, tender images and amazing ideas. The wonderfully named Merlin Sheldrake, and Rob’s own meditation on roots and language where

The real underland of language is not the roots of single words, but rather the soil of grammar and syntax, where habits of speech and therefore also habits of thought settle and interact over long periods of time. p112

And so on to Paris and the catacombs, for me the most terrifying and claustrophobic exploration in the book. The cataphiles and Hell Well. The Salle du Drapeau. London, and in a slate mine in Wales

a carchive, a slewing slope of wrecks p166

cars dumped to save scrappage.

Death is never far away, and we travel past a not-quite deserted Mithraeum to swimming deep in a submerged system, where a tunnel beckons the author:

The pull of the mouth through that eerily clear water was huge. Just as standing on the edge of a tower one feels drawn to fall, so I experienced a powerful longing to swim into the mouth until my air ran beautifully out. p200

Beautifully. The challenge to find beauty is not always about death and danger: Ch 6 ends with a lyrical description of an Adriatic beach at night where a chill current recalls the snow-fed starless rivers Rob has visited; in ch 7 a near-naked Macfarlane negotiates

the snowmelt bite of the water  p232

But the travelogue is not always beautiful, either: there are executions commemorated in Slovenian valleys, and much later there are warnings of the waste storage the  Anthropocene demands…

Even in the most overtly spiritual section, where we travel to visit the cave paintings of Lofoten, we are not far from a curious sense of disaster and mystical experience. He ties together the discoveries of Lascaux with the emergence of the news of the Nazi Death Camps, and on leaving the red-painted dancers Rob has

a strong sense of being watched…

What did I see in the dark? A shadow-play of pasts, events refusing sequence, the fingertip drawing its lines through time far from the well-lit world, there in the unfathomable cave. This was a place that absorbed those visitors who crossed its threshold – as it had me, another in the long history of meaning-seekers and meaning-makers in its shadows.  p284

What happens next is so deep, and it feels to me so important, I can’t write it out: we see Rob in mourning, and the tutelary genius loci is at best an ambiguous figure. That “strong sense of being watched,” the sentient landscape, brings me from the northerly storms to the Peak District, to Thursbitch and Ludchurch, and since this post started with Garner, I thnk it right to end it here.


*page references are to the Hamish Hamilton hardback, London 2019

Importance and Binary Opposites

The presentation on What Children Shouldn’t Read for the Reading Spree didn’t go too badly, and reflecting on what did (and didn’t) get heard has been interesting. A few messages went astray both from me and from other presenters, although the “reviews” to listen to are, of course, the people who were actually there, and caught nuances more than the powerpoint slides Twitterers want to argue with. Responses on social media have been thoughtful (and certainly less spittle-flecked) than they were following the first one, at least.  However, reading them does bring me back to Kieran Egan, whose Teaching as Storytelling was a key element of my 20 or so minute ramble. He asks

  • What is most important about the topic?
  • Why should it matter to children?
  • What is affectively engaging about it?

and then  follows this with the challenge to find binary opposites/pairs:

  • What powerful binary opposites best catch the importance of the topic?

Big questions when we look at storytelling and curriculum.   I suggest that they are different for teachers than they are for children. In What Not to Read I suggested we might ask “How do we look at books when we are educators?” and the same is true of how we look at the whole phenomenon of the outdoor curriculum and outdoor storytelling in particular – and in many ways, looking at curriculum is closer than using Egan’s probing questions as being essentially about storytelling.

There are tensions, binaries around ecocriticism and curriculum. Am I storytelling outdoors as a part of the Green Agenda?  How do I deal with a tension around book sharing and how we might orally present traditional tales – there are, for example, practical issues around books and outdoors (as we discovered in a session last year when it poured with rain)?  Teachers’ binaries will be concerned with these curricular issues; children-as-audience will be concerned with, as Egan puts it “the human adventure that began in magic and myth…” and they might be concerned with good and evil, danger and escape (Roald Dahl’s Goldilocks is a wonderful skewing of these concerns with his “delinquent little tot” and her fate at the hands of Baby Bear) or with destruction and redemption (I think at once of a beautiful and politically charged book I have discussed before: Michael Foreman’s A Child’s Garden).

So many binaries to disentangle, when the challenge from Egan is to find the  “binary opposites” that “best catch the importance of the topic” (my emphasis).   This is no small task when selecting books or stories for an outdoor audience; a huge task for teacher or school when considering why they might want to do storytelling and the practical considerations that arise from this plan. Why do we teach how we do?  What prevents us from running on the free rein of professional expertise and creativity?

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To end with an esprit d’escalier thought about presentations and co-presenters at the Reading Spree, I will take a wide-angle lens view, and ask another of Egan’s questions:

  • What content most dramatically embodies the primary opposites?

This Saturday it was for me testimony from Simon from Whitby – of children in his school who had never been to the beach – and Nicki – a librarian on a TA’s salary, buying library stock from her own pocket.

I went the next day (Sunday) to a panel discussion hosted by members of the Blackfriars congregation about the impacts of poverty and austerity on the educational experiences of children in Oxford. The feelings of the three speakers (and including my Maggie), all in various roles in education, around the squeezed budgets of public services suggests to me the final and most obvious binary: funding and austerity. Life chances are enhanced by things like decent libraries and book provision (and excellent library provision and staffing such as evidenced here) in towns and schools: refusing to answer calls for better staffing and book stock is an ideological choice, to cut public funding and cut taxation.

Cut after cut and cut as politicians tear one another apart and us along with them. There’s a binary for starters.

 

Up the Mountain

Marianne Dubuc’s Up the Mountain is worth considering when anyone says that a picture book is simple. It does not have the visual fireworks of Gaiman and McKean’s Wolves in the Walls or the political complexity of Foreman’s A Child’s Garden but the straightforward story (outlined below) has a lot to offer.

I find it is sometimes challenging when reading educators’ social media about “Where would you have this book?” and ” What use could you make of this book?” to stop and think of a book as an object in itself: the visual aspects, the pace and language of the narrative…   That’s not to deny teachers for a moment a very exciting way to explore and widen their own understanding of “children’s books” – but just that sometimes a book calls me to step away from the pedagogy. Up the Mountain does that for me.  Yes, it fits with projects on Outdoors, it could be used to discuss age, and friendship, and exploring, maps and maths, wildlife, ability…

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But that’s why it is a really enticing book. “Very old” Mrs Badger, on her Sunday walk up the mountain meets the little cat Leo who overcomes his reticence and joins her in the walk – that Sunday and “for many a Sunday after that,” until Mrs Badger no longer has the strength and it is up to Leo to rediscover the mountain. It is a plain enough narrative, with an easy pace and lovely drawings, and as Leo makes the “splendid” mountain his own, it has a poignant and subtle message about growing up and passing on the things you have experienced  and grown to love – as Leo does at the end of the book. This is a story my 5yo granddaughter will love, but the unspoken affection, the relationships between character and landscape, the exploration of tradition and enthusiasm mean I can return to this over and again for my own pleasure.

So how do we step back from being pedagogues to being simple readers? Easy enough for me in semi-retirement, maybe, easier still with research partners to spur me on, but the following are just some rough-and-ready thoughts.

Reading widely helps: if you stick to the ones you know, you are missing out.  Not just because this book or that is perfect for this child or that, but because your own enjoyment is endangered, rendered threadbare. On social media recently, a new teacher asked about the book for this next term. My response was to suggest she read a book she will enjoy reading, and the best way to find those is to read widely. The commmuity of people reading and discussing “children’s books” (or fantasy or whatever) is rich, wide and very charitable. Look at Sarah or Dimitra for starters…

Re-visiting half-forgotten or set aside books or series: have you “done” the lovely Owl Babies a lot? What about On the Way Home?  Or if you set aside something (a besetting sin of mine) ask yourself why, and whether it’s worth returning to it. Finish the Stone Book Quartet. I bet there’s a Moomin story sitting unexplored – or what about Jansson’s adult books???  There’s a whole different thread…

Treating the books destined for the classroom just as you would your holiday reading: You don’t intend to put Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed in the classroom but how did you read it? Did you take its psychological messages about bereavement and revenge to heart, or did you read it as a comic exploration of a Shakespeare play? Did you read and re-read, or did you race through it? Did you share it with a friend or a partner? Or a book group? Or on Goodreads? What did you “get out of reading it”? I read seasonally: Moomins in the autumn, maybe, and Lucy Boston’s Children of Green Knowe in December…  How do you read? What do you enjoy?  Why do I like Up the Mountain so much? Is it that poignant subtext of Mrs Badger saying goodbye to her beloved Sunday walks? The gentle loyalty of Leo? A bit of self-reflection might let you think differently about the children’s books not as a resource but as a source of wonder and enjoyment.

Reading about authors – reading other people’s critiques of authors’ discussions and interviews (I have to link to Mat Tobin here, but check out Simon and Martin and others, too), author biographies, books by the author outside their usual genre. No, for some people that’s not the way they want to go, but for some those lavish books of Maurice Sendak’s artworks or the simple self-revelation of Alan Ahlberg’s The Bucket are just the thing to get you looking at the books children read in a different light.

 

And then finally.  Once you have enjoyed the illustrations, seen the way prose and picture work together (or in opposition), enjoyed that way that little cat peers out at Mrs Badger and how the bunny later echoes the incident, finally figured out the relationship between Sally Gardner’s wolves and John Masefield’s – then start looking at the classroom, and again, Mat has the resources … Too late to do this for this summer, I know, but this is, after all, simply a reflection as the weather cools. Time for the Moomins for me, then… More mountains and small beasts.

 

 

Shelving

After years of accumulating homeliness, leaving my Brookes office was a dreadful thing to do; hasty, almost punitive. We left for Greece the day after my Brookes contract came to an end, with thoughts of Prospero set adrift echoing through my reading. My books of img_9972magic – of Wild Spaces Wild Magic – were set up, but the rest was just boxes of stuff.

The boxes were sulking when I returned, but with a  bit of coaxing, they began to find ways into the study. Joe helped by taking me to Ikea and then helping with building the shelves. I did that job I had called “tonking”when I was a library assistant: setting the shelf heights by sorting out the supports or tonks. And after that it was shelving.

I decided to divide the books into “children’s literature” and “lecturer-type” books, with Wild Spaces Books on their own, starting with Molly Bang’s Picture This, through some (but not all) the Robert MacFarlanes, ending with Z is for Jack Zipes. There were boxes of liturgical and Biblical books – a very nice Liber Usualis, for example, and my battered Greek New Testament – too, but I set them to one side. I looked at the children’s literature and set to. They were in boxes roughly alphabetically, so that a pile of Anholts came out together, and more Mairi Hedderwick than I thought I had; but they weren’t in strict order, and there were gaps. This means that books that had not met for years suddenly were leaning against one another: Sheila Cassidy’s retelling of the Creation was up against Michael Foreman’s eco-committed texts on one side and David Almond’s Skellig on the other. More arrive and these congruences shift: Roald Dahl and Lauren Child budge in; Noel Langley’s Land of Green Ginger, with its rather dubious racial stereotypes, squeezes in with Virginia Kroll’s Masai and I. It’s a bit like rush hour, but they all do get  in.

Size is an issue, and while I create “Outsize” shelves, for a while it looks like MacFarlane and Morris’ The Lost Words has no home, until moving the Little Tollers downstairs makes space in Wild Spaces Wild Magic, between Landmarks and W G Hoskins The Making of the English Landscape. Some of these juxtapositions are just right.

Biblical and liturgical find a home like the sparrow in psalm 83.

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The grown-up books fill higher shelves, partly in case grandchildren want to browse the lower ones for books that are “for” them, but here it begins again: for a good while, Philip Pullman’s Daemon Voices snuggled next to Rob Pope’s English Studies, until Francis Pryor arrived with Steven Pinker and the Opies. Julie Fisher rested against Ralph Waldo Emerson for a while (or was Emerson the one doing the leaning?); Caspar Henderson and Geoffrey Grigson met briefly, as did Jackie Musgrave and T H White.

It’s all a lovely conceit, as if this crowded Tube train of office shelving means that Simon Schama and Chris Stringer will get chatting as their covers touch, or Katharine Briggs
will strike up a conversation with Jane Carroll as they squeeze together.   But of course they won’t. It may be that George Monbiot does talk to Sara Maitland, but they don’t do so on my shelves. Here, that’s my job. Because if this blog has point beyond a rather vain showing you (dear Reader) round some of a really quite small collection, it is this: books “talk” to each other only in the person who reads attentively and makes connections. We become passionate about this idea or that, but it is the reader who is in a position to connect playing outdoors as the Last Child in the Woods with the Hermits and the New Monasticism of the eleventh century (Louv and Leyser). Alcuin of York reminisces O quam dulcis vita fuit dum sedebamus in quieti … inter librorum copias, but I might respond O how sweet life is, Blessed Alcuin, where we sit and read in quiet and let the ideas inspire and jolt and fizz and mix…

We are where the debate takes place, where critical thinking emerges. Not reading alone, but thinking and speaking and mulling and writing – and maybe reshelving our ideas in a different order from time to time.

O Sweet Woods

…the delight of solitarinesse?  I am not sure this is always the case. Dowland’s song is lovely, and does all those Elizabethan/Jacobean things about how countryside allows escape – from court, from love, from mess. The re-read of this play (I’ve sprinkled some allusions throughout this post) has given me much to think about tonight. However, just as the Duke in As You Like It retreats to the Forest of Arden not alone but with his company,  the social aspect of the pictures below cannot be denied. Hey nonny no.

Maria Popova’s Brainpickings Blog is a mine of beautiful sources for all sorts of things. Here, she excerpts some of the writings of Hermann Hesse on trees, which sparked some thoughts on Twitter and in me.  What makes a place special? Is it simply memory? Here I want to post some pictures and some brief explanations with really no thought but to explore some of the sites that have meant something to me over the past two or so years. So this is really just a resource for further reflection, taking account of space, memory and relationship. They aren’t in chronological order, or really in order of importance, except that the last is the most recent.

I’ll start at Wittenham Clumps, where I learned the value of Forest School back in 2000. This is a later picture, of course, with two grandchildren making dens.  I’ll come back to Forest School, that almost incidental thing that was therapy for me after Theo died and then went on the inform my educational world view. Making dens in the Wittenham Woods, watching physical skills and inventiveness and imagination come together is still a great joy.

But the next has to be the first dawn looking to Ludchurch from Gradbach. The rising of the sun and the running of the deer. Wild Spaces Wild Magic defines so much of my work-thinking over the past two years: that it has such personal significance is down to the “geological pantocrator,” the pareidolic Green Knight (here in the initial project outline), and to the quiet glory of this dawn – and (back to the humans) to the team.   It was mat who showed me that face, and if I have lost my heart to the project it is in part because of that experience, and then this glorious autumn morning, and also to the variety of gifts of the team – Debbie, Jane, Roger, Mat:They  make me think and feel and create (and fail and pick myself up) but it is this half an hour at dawn in a solitary wooded valley  that was a moment of transcendence with

…tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.

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To create a methodological framework for this, I suppose I am looking for a visual approach  to autoethnographic study – but in reality, I am not there yet. Where I am, or where I was the other week at any rate, was seeing woods not as a place of solitary  contemplation as in my previous post, but as a place of meeting.  A place of shelter, companionship, release, exploration: Who Will Go Walk?  Here then, to end, is a series of photos:  Nettlebed,  a place of glory in bluebell time, where in Rob Macfarlane’s words “Each step in taken in an ocean” and where in autumn Maggie and I have walked the red-gold of beech leaves. I could wish this were the site of Cooper’s fantasy sequence, so powerful it is, so amazing the visits I make with Maggie.

 

And then there’s Wychwood, the “strange caper” where I broke my finger trying to keep up with Jon.  The memory stays, brings a smile. The finger is still wonky.  Maybe the woods, like Arden, like a monastery, like life’s different contexts, are places we are accompanied by our follies?  Maybe I needed to learn I am more “Full of wise saws, and modern instances,” a bit like this blog, than a nimble Orlando under a greenwood tree.

 

I cannot omit the 2016 autumn trip with Mat on the first, splendid visit to Alderley Edge. Here he is photographing away in the woods on our weekend in Garner Country. I’m not sure we found anything of real insight at Alderley that tentative first morning – but it does deserve another trip, maybe on its own.  The Edge was maybe eclipsed for me by the later activities of the weekend, notable, of course, the meeting with the Green Knight, whose photos are all over this blog, and in whose magic wood on our last trip I felt both lost and found.

Nearly there. Three more shots: my local nature reserve, the Lye Valley where the ways the woods open out into fen are like a curtain drawing back… again the grandchildren, or two of them: watching them teaches me more than reading about outdoor learning. ..

…and the domestic woods at Harcourt where much of my Outdoor Learning practical work takes place… and yes, I did smoor that little fire. What started as what I think of (unkindly) as my hobby module has become a major part of my understanding of my role.

And finally to say nothing much but to bring the blog post to a finish, here are Chris and Jon and me. Woods and friendship again.  Solitary they can be, as in the previous blog I cited – but they are also places of meeting. Another form of therapy?