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)

Tadhg, On The Road To The New Forest: Imbolc, Land-Healing & More 2

20190201 TADHG ON THE ROAD TO THE NEW FOREST 2

I’m in the New Forest in the south of England. The new Forest is a charmingly deceptive name, though. It is an ancient woodland delineated on the man-made map a thousand years ago and at that time declared ‘new’, and formed after the retreat of the last ice age some thirty thousand years ago. It is an old forest, indeed, and it’s bliss.

In a forest such as this, there is a wonderful feeling of catharsis, a peace in the midst of wild things. The Japanese knew of this and coined a phrase in the 1980’s prompting the health benefits of people spending time in forest.

Many call this ‘tree bathe-ing’, the Japanese call it ‘shirin-yoku’ (meaning ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’) and its benefits are felt just by being in a forest. It is said it helps to reduce blood pressure, stress, improves mood, accelerates ailment recovery, increases energy levels and intuition, increases happiness etc. Truly, there is something here, something beyond what just can be seen. 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 Wendell Berry

I’m in this ancient forest, suitably attired for my hike, or perhaps a saunter is a better word for it, in waterproofs with layers underneath and well-worn hiking boots on my feet. I am in my preferred environment. I’ve been walking for two hours now, and it’s raining, it’s wet and it’s muddy underfoot, and cold. I love it. I haven’t seen another soul in two hours. I’m alone.

Alone? That’s not entirely true. Sporadically a bird flies overhead in this dark, dense woodland. Most of the trees a bare, leafless except for the pine trees. Occasionally, an animal scurries away in the nearby undergrowth. Adders are very common in this area and care should be taken. I’m careful. The trees are far from lifeless. They’re sleeping. Deep roots are dreaming. And new shoots push up through the semi-decomposed duff layer here and there. Spring is returning. 

Alone? No. There is animal life here, tree and plant life, microbial  life and much more. Some talk of life as consisting of animal life, plant (and tree) life, fungi, protist life (that is, any multi-called organism not included in the previous three), archaea life (single-called organisms) and bacteria. These all form what is known as the Five Kingdoms of life. How can I be alone with all that going on around me? But there’s more.

‘If we opened our minds to enjoyment, we might find tranquil pleasures spread about us on every side. We might live with the angels that visit us on every sunbeam, and sit with the fairies who wait on every flower.’ Samuel Smiles

Alone? No. These are ancient woods and you can feel something more here. A presence or presences can be felt. Benevolent. Yes.

Perhaps it is Dryads (tree spirits); Salamanders (fire-beings seen in flames eg candle flame, and, some would say in everything that has the potential to burn); the Fae or pixies (nature’s carers); or Water nymphs, energetic beings, found in and by lakes (but why not in a wet and damp forest like the one I’m in, or present in your faucet.) Yes, maybe water nymphs are closer to you, in your home, than you imagined at first. 

Maybe there are Sylphs here. Yes, there are. Sylphs are said to be seen in light clouds or low-level mist, and indeed some would say they are the light clouds and low-level mist that we sometimes see. Here, in this forest the occasional wisp of mist can be seen moving between trees as a light breeze directs them.

Dryads, Salamanders, the Fae, Water nymphs, and Sylphs are here, and all these, sometimes collectively known as Elementals, are known by some as the Five Magical Realms.

Alone? No. I am in an ancient forest teeming with life, visible and invisible, ‘mundane’ and ‘spiritual’, known and unknown, silent and loud, jere and yet of the Other.  And maybe, there are angels here; maybe the ancestors, too.

‘…since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…’ Hebrews 12.1b, The Book

And then, I stop. And in this ancient forest, surrounded by Life itself, there at the base of a tree stump I ‘plant’ a small rainforest jasper stone (as I have done in two other location through the U.K.) and say a few words of peace over it; peace for the land, peace for all life, peace for this country’s government of people as it ‘doth err’. Remaining in silence I am aware of the presences around me. Presences? oh yes, and the Presence is here, known as the Friend, the Companion, the Happy One, the Wild Holy One.

We are never alone. Never alone, for we ‘swim’ through Life itself and Life pervades our very Being in an eternal dance of mutuality.

And, then I move. It’s still raining, it’s still wet and it’s still muddy underfoot, and it is still cold. Oh yes, and I still love it, but it’s time to walk back on my two hour journey to leave this wonderful place. But, what is here ‘travels’ with me, and oh yes, it “travels’  with you, too, for we are never alone.

‘Listen. Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?’ Mary Oliver