It has been a time of meetings, walks and conversations – with other artists and practitioners of other disciplines – around how we ‘meet’ the wood.
My first of these significant encounters took place in Gloucestershire rather than on home turf, visiting a shamanic practitioner I met on the Dark Ecology course at Schumacher College led by David Abram and Stephan Harding.
Mandy Pullen made me laugh, and her shamanism, which is a subject I can feel skittish about, appears to rise up from the ground. It is embedded in this living world rather than in separate cosmologies or sparkly unicorns. At Schumacher she mentioned that she was communicating with plants, and building her relationship with particular species, and I wanted to know more.
Mandy lives in a house she looks after herself. It is white, but its window-frames are painted with carefully cut-in sections of red, orange, yellow and blue. The garden wraps around the house, and all of it is kitchen garden. Beds of vegetables and medicinal herbs, fruit trees and bushes are bordered by large hedges; a pond full of frogs nestles under large leaves, there’s a small greenhouse and a huge woodshed full to the brim with carefully stacked wood and decorated with bull’s head sculptures she made herself.
We go and watch the Severn bore together. It is a 1* (the smallest) but the initial hump of brown water is followed by swelling and filling of water that just keeps coming, in a way that moves us both. A swan, who had been dabbling about downstream as we walked up the footpath, comes floating past, riding the tide sideways on and moving too fast like when you walk along a travelator, in a way that is frankly ridiculous. The tide fills my belly and head. We are talking about home, and my longing for one (and the difficulty of affording one in the place I love) and the water seems to reassure, in a generous but muddy way… if not one thing, then another.
In the Forest of Dean there are hundreds of people following the Sculpture trail, or the Stick Man trail, depending on age group. The trails cut into the landscape with human narrative, and thus frame the forest for a family audience. The forest as theme park. I like it that children are making nests out of leaves and twigs – maybe it makes them think about what it might be like to be a bird? As a kid I lived in a very rural place and messed about in the woods a lot alone or with my brother. My experience was amplified by a series of books (by who? They were bound in identical red material with the title in gold lettering on the spine, and I cannot remember the author’s name, nor have I ever found anyone who has read them) each of which took an animal (the Badger family, Fox, Rabbits etc) as its central protagonist/s. I think that the title of the series was the name of the wood, but of course these characters inhabited ‘my’ woods in my imagination. I feel those books were important in developing my sense of living alongside other lives in the woods, as rich as my own, if more mysterious.
It was quite something that Mandy took me to her place of work – a regular walk where she undertakes her private shamanic journeying and experimentation and communing with nature. I met her Spiral Tree – this is her in it, she just fits – where, she said, every time she visited she was shown something new. Did she mean a vision, I wondered? But it was more embodied than that – it was mushrooms proliferating deep inside the point of the spiral, or one day noticing that the tree was still alive and was sprouting new growth.
Our verbal conversation was fascinating, it started the moment I arrived and will continue on for a long time yet I hope, but what I treasure, what I understand in my bones, is that embodied thinking and experiential knowing, with and in our physical world.