Among the trees

“I go among the trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet.” (Wendell Berry)

Take a look at the first image. This is a print series that I’m currently working on. I am making thirteen prints for the Celtic Tree Calendar. My intention is to honour trees which live so much longer than we do, and on which we rely for our fragile existence.

The second image shows a piece by Peter Walker. It is one of 5,000 steel leaves that are currently touring different UK cathedrals. The leaves are intended to represent the resilience of humanity at this time of crisis. According to the artist, the piece “has been designed to honour those who have passed away during the pandemic, but also to allow everyone to take a moment out and contemplate what we have been through and to think about loved ones”. Maybe it was just the context of the sacred building, but I was reminded of a verse from Revelation in the bible, “leaves are for the healing of the nations”.

There is something very powerful about the sustained cycle that trees give to the earth and to us. Even in winter, when many plants and flowers are dormant beneath the earth, we see the skeletons of our trees around us, even in the centre of our cities. Our oldest UK tree is the Fortingall Yew which is believed to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old. Even the shortest life span for a tree is 100 years. At the beginning of lockdown, my son pointed out to me that the pattern of pandemics is roughly on a 100-year cycle, just long enough for us mortals to not hold the experience in our living memory. Yet most trees we see now were around and thriving when the Spanish flu ran rife.

Currently the continued work on HS2 is demolishing ancient woodlands and historic trees along its route. The devastation is so critical that the Woodland Trust have set up a petition and also are sharing images of particular historic trees that are being felled on social media. It seems tragic to me that we work hard to preserve ancient buildings which are often not even half as old as our trees, and yet are happy to cull the woodlands that are vital for our planet’s health. To find out more follow this link: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/protecting-trees-and-woods/campaign-with-us/hs2-rail-link/

Us humans have such a sense of our own importance. We often forget that we are just part of a larger pattern. There is something wonderful about this, if we are willing to let go of our own grandeur. As the hymnwriter Waler Chalmers Smith says, “we blossom and flourish like leave on a tree, and wither and perish but naught changes thee”. This is not a morbid statement, but a recognition of our own transience which allows us to keep our perspective about where we fit in the scheme of things. We do die, we do only live for a certain time, but whilst we live, we can blossom, we can flourish, we can be a part of the ‘healing of nations’ if we so choose.

In a time of pandemic, perhaps we need to flourish more than ever, to recognise our place in the world, to work for healing: to contemplate, as Peter Walker puts it, what we have been through and to think about our loved ones.

Reflection

Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:

  • How has the pandemic changed your perspective on your existence?
  • How can you flourish?
  • How can you be healing for others?
  • Who are your loved ones?

Meditative activity

You will need two pieces of paper, pencil or pen and other art materials as you like, scissors.

  • Layer the paper on top of each other and fold it lengthways
  •  Cut or tear out the shape below. Open out to reveal two leaves.
  • Write or draw onto one of your leaves in response to the questions.
  • If you are happy to, please could you copy anything you would like from your first leaf onto your second one and send it to me at the address below. Your leaf will be part of my forthcoming exhibition Touch Wood. For details of when and where this will be, please keep an eye on my website www.shaeron.com
  • Please email me to find out where to send your leaves: shaeron@mac.com

At LMM we regularly produce reflections and meditations, find more here. Shaeron Caton Rose wrote this visual meditation, you can find this and other resources on her website.

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