The Peace Of Wild Things: An Encounter In Thetford Forest

20191013 THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS AN ENCOUNTER THETFORD FOREST

I’m in the depths of Thetford Forest. Some distance behind me is the hustle and bustle of a myriad of people near the visitors centre, using the café, experiencing zip lining or bbq’ing. But for those willing to venture away from the ‘near wild’, the voices in the forest call out.

 ’Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth… they preach… the ancient law of life’

As I pick my way through the damp forest – yes, although the rain is light it has been, and still is relentless – I am surrounded by wonderfully tall, sky-hugging lowland pine trees, some less than two feet apart from its neighbours. The sun is still high in the sky, but it’s shrouded by the trees, and so I’m walking in a twilight state, and so am being careful with face-high branches and twigs as I weave left and right.

The going isn’t that easy. The mud sucks ones boots down and makes walking laborious, and moss, like a green carpet, underfoot and dead, wet leaves give an alternative challenge, that of accelerated locomotion just when you didn’t expect it. Sometimes, my ambling though dense forest alternates between ‘clod-hopping’ and sliding all over the place. Not a pretty sight, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought. I am life from eternal life’

The forest is alive. Even in mid-October animals scurry this way and that in the undergrowth, birds fly overhead, and there’s that wonderful pine, tree, somewhat dank undergrowth smell that is fascinating, distinctive and refreshing. I can’t resist but to frequently, look around, inhale deeply, and find some excuse to sit on a fallen tree. Yes, I know it’s wet, but I’m ‘armed’ and wearing a waterproof kagoule and waterproof trousers. It’s bliss. There is no such thing as bad weather: just inappropriate clothing.

And there, standing in the distance, obscured by undergrowth until I move closer, is Venus. The artist will tell you that this is a human-height sculpture placed in the forest to show off the skills of human ingenuity. The ecologist would encourage you to note the sculptures  ‘skin’ of forest colours, to denote life, and in this case to promote the idea of nature-appreciation, reforestation and more. But there’s more.

The forest is alive. And just as a bird might make a nest, a beaver make a dam, and a Fox make a lair, and  we would call it natural, so too, these sculptures evoke a deep spirituality that is, perhaps, natural for humankind. And so, it is fantastic to see the first sculpture of about ten.

It is almost as if the forest is pressing in to get a closer look at what humankind has done here, and it is a acceptable. Surrounded by elementals, dryads, some would say forest angels, there is a presence here, in the forest. And this sculpture ‘fits in’ perfectly.

 ‘A longing to wander tears  my heart when I hears trees rustling in the wind…’

And so I move on, exploring the forest. Something like a bright orange light, just for a split-second catches my attention to the right. I turn my head in that direction,  look intently, but… nothing. Nothing but dense trees and fern. A trick of the light? A reflection on the side of my glasses? Or the beckoning of a Guardian of the Forest? Whatever it was, it has got my interest and I move in that direction.

Ten minutes later I’m still walking and there in front of me are two more sculptures: David and Daphne.

‘When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me…Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent’

The two magnificent sculpture: David (as in, David and Goliath), and Daphne (who, and those who remember their Greek mythology will know, was turned into a Laurel tree, but Apollo made the tree into an evergreen tree thus conferring immortality upon her.

I sit here,  mesmerised at the two sculptures. Two thoughts  in my mind: David faced his monster and prevailed. Daphne succumbed and gave her life, and yet even then became immortal. Who says the forest cannot teach us anything? I may not have heard an audible voice as I sat on a wet log, but I do believe an elemental, a dryad, a fay, or an angel whispered into my  ears words too deep to hear as sound, but penetrating deep within the labyrinthine ‘corridors’ of the brain, where mind, body and spirit meld. Of course, you would expect me to say that: I’m an animist.

I spent another couple of hours moving through the dense undergrowth and tall trees, and encountered all the sculptures carefully placed throughout the forest, some ‘hidden’ so that only the most adventurous would find them, and reap the reward of encountering these Guardians of the Forest. As above, so below.

And then I headed back to the visitors centre, still with the hustle and bustle of many people enjoying the fruits and pleasures of ‘near wild’. I’m now sitting at a picnic table and am gazing back the way I had walked. Two hundred feet away from me, the ‘manicured’ grass gives way to the dense trees and I look on longingly, and yet I’m completely happy and satisfied. Green joy unbounded. It was a wonderful experience – to forest-bathe, to amble in dense woodland, and to encounter sculptures that evoke the deep spiritual centres within, and to meet…. well, to have met forest entities, known and unknown.

’Whoever has learned 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’.

 

(All indented quotes above are by Herman Hesse, and from his book Baume: Betrachtungen Und Gedichte)

‘Tis Mystery All’. Living With The Unknown In An Age Of ‘Must Know’

20180804 TIS MYSTERY ALL LIVING WITH THE UNKOWN IN AN AGE OF MUST KNOW

I’m in London and it’s still hot – heatwave weather. Earlier I took myself off to the local park and that’s where I am now. In the bustle of a busy city, I’m sitting in the shade of a mighty oak tree, with a coffee nearby, a good book, and eyes that are half closing in the heat of the day, as my mind begin to wander. I wonder…

‘Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ William Shakespeare

It is on hot, balmy days that much musing takes place. Have you noticed how, in ancient text, in those hot lands of old that Divine contact usually took place near or under trees, where men and women were resting from the day’s heat and perhaps were more ‘open’ to the numinous.

‘Then God appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day, while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw three men standing nearby…’ Genesis 18:1-2a, The Book

It was many years ago, and I suppose I was six or seven years old at that time, that my grandmother told a story to me one evening. We were at the far end of her garden, sitting in the shade of an old, mature, gnarled oak tree, an oak tree unlike the many others in her garden. Quite similar to this oak tree in this city park. It, too, was a hot August evening. My eyes were half-closed, then, and my imagination ran riot.

She told the story of ‘the lights’ in the wood, which she described like fire-flies, but as she would say, ‘there’s more to it than that’, or just ‘there’s more’. She said that several years ago she had been walking in the nearby woods once evening and out the corner of her eyes she spied several lights in the distance, gaily dancing. Luminous green orbs they were. She said she wasn’t afraid as she seemed enveloped in an almost palpable peace. As she drew near, she said, the lights just disappeared. I was enthralled. Even at that young age it got me wondering.

She went on to say that they might have been the spirits of the place, or tree spirits, and as she said that she winked at me. Was that a ‘knowing wink’ meaning that I should take what she had said to heart? Or was it a ‘make your own mind up’, kind of wink?

‘One day you might find out…but then you might not’, she said enigmatically. ‘It’s the journey that counts…’. Perhaps, nature or the One behind it all gives us a periodic ‘wake up’ call?

’Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Hebrews 1:1, The Book

That was then.

Now, I know that the ancient Celts, Druids and Romans did have a belief in the spirits of the place, protectives spirit, the genii loci as they called them. They had a deep and abiding belief in such a spirit in each location with its own perspective and mannerism. Today, we might laugh at such a notion, but admit that, at times, we do ‘feel’ at home in certain places, but then dismiss it as nothing more than an emotional feeling. A shallow view of the genii loci when compared to our ancestors.

But suppose the Celts, Druids, Romans, and not forgetting my grandmother, suppose they were right, and our disbelief is nothing more than twenty-first century ‘distancing’ and scepticism?

I also remembered, at that time, her saying that the lights might, indeed, be the Will-O-The-Wisp. And as I look back now I wonder if that was what I saw, once.

’Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.’ Neil Armstrong

About eighteen months ago I wrote that a few years ago I went for a night stroll in the local woods. I can’t remember now if it was a problem getting to sleep or being woken up in the early hours and unable to get back to sleep. But I went for a walk. Then I wrote: My thoughts were then interrupted by a brilliant bright yellow-green light, visible some 200 feet away through dense forest. The mysterious light had piqued my interest, and once again my heart rate quickened. I sat there watching it. It made no noise. It never seemed to move. After about fifteen minutes of sitting there, wondering what it could be and not drawing any logical conclusion, I got to my feet and slowly moved towards the direction of the light.

Then, the air was colder than ever, the fog masked the exact location of the light until I got to within about fifty feet of it. At about forty feet from it – and the light source seemed about eight foot wide – it went out! No sound! No light. I stopped. After a few minutes I carried on walking, gauging my steps so that I’d have a rough idea of walking some forty feet. After forty feet, I stopped. I must have been right on top of the light source, and for the next few minutes looked around for evidence of what had caused the bright light – but I could see nothing untoward. A mystery.

So, now I’m wondering: Will-O-The-Wisp or dryads?

’It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit.’ Antoine Rivarol

Years ago, under that oak tree, my grandmother pondered if it could have been the Will-O-The-Wisp or a dryad, that is, a tree spirit, or the spirit of the place. Who knows?

Perhaps somethings are just too mysterious. Interestingly (as I was then sitting under an oak tree, as I am now), there is much to say that trees, and especially Oak trees have a spirit associated with them. When you think oak, think dryad or a similar term, drys. And, as regards the oak tree, think Druid. Drys signifies ‘oak’ in Greek, and dryads are specifically the spirits of oak trees, whilst the dryads of ash trees were called the Meliae.

’There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.’ Aldous Huxley

So, as I open my eyes fully on this still-oh-so-hot London day I am now no nearer solving the challenge: Did I witness a dryad, the Will-O-The-Wisp, the Canwyll Corff [pronounced can-noo-will-korf] that is, the ‘corpse candle’ (see here), or something else? Was it in this physical realm or in the imaginal? Did it have a specific meaning or was it a ‘nudge’ just to prompt me into a state of awareness?

Maybe, the ‘message for me and perhaps you, is that we might need to wonder (more)?  To have a beginner mind as Buddhists say, to be born again and again and again, to see through the eyes of a child maybe needed? It’s the journey that is important, and as we journey onward it is perception, wonder, mystery and awe that, perhaps, we can open ourselves to, and profit from (more).

‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’ William Blake

My grandmother, always ready to listen (as well as tell stories), would often conclude her stories by saying to me, ‘Now, what do you think, dear one?’