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Walking With Trees – The Linden Tree

My mother's tree
My mother’s tree – a large leaved lime.

After noticing the lime tree in Withdean Woods (see last blog post), I remembered that the tree planted in remembrance of my mother, is a large-leaved lime, Tilia platyphyllos. I took a mini pilgrimage across town to the woodland cemetery to spend some time with my mum’s tree.

There are three lime trees native to the UK, small-leaved, large-leaved and common. Large-leaved limes like to grow on lime rich soils.

Lime trees are also called linden trees in Europe. They are pollinated by insects, so will not produce as much pollen as wind pollinated trees like oaks or beech. After the last Ice Age small-leaved limes dominated the lowland forests of the UK, especially in the south and east.

The lime tree was considered a sacred tree in Eastern Europe. The Polish word for the month of July, Lipiec, is named after the word for lime, lipa, and the names of many villages translate as Holy Lime.

Broad-leaved lime leaves
Large-leaved lime tree leaves – they are broad, floppy, heart-shaped and they darken as the seasons progress.

Within the dark branches of this beautiful tree dwelt goddesses and gods. In countries such as Lithuania, Laima, a goddess of fate, fertility, childbirth and death held the linden as her sacred tree. She was worshipped by women, who prayed and carried out rituals within the tree’s leafy shade. When a child was born they made offerings there to the goddess. Laima is often associated with the cuckoo, Gegute, who watched over time and the seasons.

In German folklore the lime tree was an important tree of Freyja, the goddess of truth and love. It was thought of as a lover’s tree, perhaps because of its heart shaped leaves. In pre-Christian times it was believed that it was impossible to tell lies while standing beneath a linden tree. For this reason communities held judicial councils, along with celebrations such as weddings and festivities, beneath the tree that was often found in the centre of the town or village.

Lime leaf

Sitting for a while in the grass in the shade of my mother’s tree, I listened to the birds, wrote some notes in my diary and pressed a few leaves between the pages.

Diary in the grass
My diary in the grass and speedwell flowers.
String of feathers and shells
String of feathers, beads and shells as an offering to my mother’s spirit and the tree’s.

Then I replenished the seed in the bird feeder and hung up a simple string of feathers, shells and beads. The feathers once belonged to a green woodpecker, the “Rain Bird“, so named because it was thought to foretell the coming of rain. I think the trees need rain, but I’m quite happy with sunshine at the moment.

Goddesses, cuckoos, lime trees and rain birds – I’ve drawn an illuminated letter for the lime tree, beneath a sun and a crescent moon. Click on the image to see a larger version:

Lime Tree illuminated letter
Lime tree illuminated letter.

I have decided to research and write a small book about tree and forest goddesses to accompany my book, Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon. Below is a picture of Laima.

Laima
Laima, whose sacred tree is the linden tree. She decides the destiny of new born children.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

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Walking With Trees – Glennie Kindred

I have a love of trees and at the monent I am reading Walking With Trees, by Glennie Kindred – and a charming book it is.

Walking With Trees
Walking With Trees by Glennie Kindred.

I’ve been aware of Glennie’s books and illustrations for some time, as I’ve submitted artwork to the Earth Pathways Diary that she jointly founded. I was very pleased to have been gifted her latest book by a kind friend.

Glennie explores thirteen trees native to the UK in thirteen chapters. Each chapter investigates a species of tree under various headings. First there’s an overview of the tree. Then each tree’s signature picture and qualities are covered, along with associated myths, legends and folklore. There are subheadings covering kitchen medicine, crafts, how to grow the tree, it’s Ogham symbol and how it fits in with the wheel of the year. Lastly there’s Glennie’s personal account of being with each tree. A comprehensive appendix rounds off the book.

Walking With Trees is beautifully written – far from field guide, but just as informative – and it features the author’s lovely drawings.

Walking With Trees
Walking With Trees – showing inside illustration.

Reading the book I feel much more intimate with the trees and want to go and commune with them like Glennie does. I particularly like her personal accounts of sitting with or experiencing companionship with each tree that close each chapter.

One thing that really stands out in the signature qualities of almost every tree Glennie writes about is how communal they are. Community shouts loud and clear, over and over again. I know that trees form vast interconnections beneath the ground with mycorrhizal fungi, but I wonder if this says more about Glennie herself than about the trees. I also wondered whether there are trees that thrive in solitude, until I read about Bristlecone Pines in an article in Aeon magazine. They’re not UK natives though – far from it.

My only other query with the book so far is how Glennie writes that Elder trees aren’t found together. Perhaps that’s usually true, but walking the springline of the South Downs I’ve often found areas thick with elder trees. They’re not exactly my favourite trees, although I’m admiring those in the garden that are currently full of blossom. I’m encouraged to collect a few flower heads and make elderflower cordial :)

As I was walking through my local Withdean Woods a week or so ago I noticed the fresh, apple green leaves of a small-leaved lime. Glennie’s book doesn’t cover Lime trees, so I thought I’d do a little research myself and write about them in my next blog post :)

*Update: The book does cover solitary trees afterall!

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On the Trail of Boar

Towards the end of April I visited the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire with my partner in the hope of seeing wild boar. I’ve written a simple piece about our search that is published today on Caught by the River. Soon I’ll put it on my writing website, From the Fields and Woods.

Here is a wild boar illustration, Summoning the Boar. (Yes, it features brambles once again!)

Summoning the Boar
Summoning the Boar
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Brighton Festival Open House

Yesterday I hung my artwork for the open house I’m participating in this May in Brighton. I had help from Kevin, my partner, and Chris, whose house it is. Together we tried to make it all look as good as possible.

Hanging pictures for the open house.
Hanging pictures for the open house including old favourites, Dancing at Sunset and A Letter at Twilight..
Table at open house.
Table at open house showing a couple of my altered books along with originals, prints and books..

There is some wonderful art in the house, including – Chris Durham’s photography;

Pier and starlings by Chris Durham.
Pier and starlings by Chris Durham.
Photography by Chris Durham.
Photography by Chris Durham.

Dawn Stacey’s paintings;

Dawn Stacey paintings
Dawn Stacey paintings.

Susan Evans’ – skyscape paintings;

Susan Evans skyscapes
Susan Evans skyscapes.

Keziah Furini‘s illustration;

Keziah Furini prints
Keziah Furini prints and cards corner.

Jules Ash’s jewelery;

Jewelery by Jules Ash
Jewelery by Jules Ash

along with Caroline Chalton Hellyer’s lovely ceramics, Stewart Furini’s woodworking and Jan Langdale’s dimensional glass painting.

My work looks somewhat shoddy in comparison. I do hope that I don’t let the house down. My artwork days are numbered. I’ll continue to do my folksy-crafty bits and pieces, but don’t think I’ll exhibit again and certainly not in such professional company. Sigh!

Anyway, if you’re in Brighton in May, consider visiting 51 Montefiore Road at the weekends between 11am and 5pm to see some lovely art, buy some lovely art or perhaps just a card :)

Here are a couple of original pen and ink mounted illustrations that I have for sale in the open house (I’ve become very interested in adding brambles to my pictures!):

Today I’ve been out delivering fliers. Aren’t they good! :)

Open house flyers
Open house flyers for 51 Moniefiore Road, Brighton.
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Eostre

Happy Easter! Or happy Eostre!

Almost exactly two years ago I walked up Wolstonbury Hill to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill
Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill.

I walk in the footsteps of ancient people who would have awoken on this same hillside in millenia past to greet the dawn, casting their gaze out over the wooded lowlands, the Weald of Sussex.

As I stand on the summit I can see in all directions and experience the ringing silence of height. To my west, cluster the pylons of Truleigh Hill with a red light beacon the same red as the clouds before the sun rose.

A kestrel hovers over the top of the hill, wings scything in red-gold radiance. About me the land flickers; fresh dew in the grasses.

Dawn is a becoming, an edge, an awakening, a time of infinite potential; open, inviting and as subtle as a breath. Sometimes a silent cat of soft paws, it creeps over the land unannounced.

As the sun rose the grass glowed rose.

Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill
Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill. Eos was a Ancient Greek dawn goddess and was often described as ‘rosy-fingered’.

Wolstonbury hill is a well known chalk hill in the South Downs of West Sussex. It rises to 206 metres and at the top you can see for miles. It is not surprising that it was the location for ancient settlements since before the Bronze Age. There is evidence of ditches, enclosures and field systems. Excavations have found pottery, flintwork, human skeletons and animal bones.

Bronze Age woman
Bronze Age woman – a crude watercolour illustration I did many years ago.

I have become very fond of the hill as I can reach it by bicycle from home. There is something special about it’s layers of history, the sweeping views, smooth, rolling contours and the wonderful sense of space you get on it’s summit and hillsides.

Recently I thought about the word Eostre and recollected that Eostre was a Dawn Goddess. However, she is associated with both dawn and Easter. The Anglo Saxons worshipped Eostre in the month of April according to the Venerable Bede, a eighth century Benedictine monk. The festival celebrating the goddess had died out by his time and was replaced by the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. The word Easter probably derives from the word Eostre.

Eostre
Eostre – an illustration adapted from The Memory Tree.

This year I thought I’d like to make a trip to Wolstonbury Hill with Kevin and perform a small ritual to celebrate Easter/Eostre – the spring and dawn.

We didn’t get up quite so early, but were up there by about 7.30am and were serenaded by skylarks on the hillside and a profusion of all sorts of birdsong in the woods on the way up and back down. Up there it was all about lightness, air, emerging and balance for me. Here is a little video of my movement ritual:

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The Dream – I want to be a swimmer too

The Blue Velvet Sea
The Blue Velvet Sea.

Dreaming, I stand on pebbles and sand. Before me is a rich, dark sea. There are waves, but not large waves. In the water there are octopuses, starfish, clams and swimmers. I want to join them, I want to be a swimmer too.

In the sea’s echoing changing room there is talk of violins. There are neighbours, people I recognise, friends and family. Everyone is talking.

Before long, the walls of the building crumble and in rushes the sea, the dark, rich, velvet sea of swimmers and octopuses, starfish and clams.

The Dream
The Dream.

There are ammonites in the rocks. Strange creatures from the past lurk in the shallows. Beneath the waves I see continents and the blue-green eyeshine of the ocean floor. It becomes a melody of waving grasses and waltzing seals. I want to wade further in and join them, I want to become a swimmer-dancer too.

But I wake up. An amber light spills through the curtains. Did I join them? I would like to think so. Somewhere in another plane I may still wander the shore, marvelling at the life in the water. Of the land but tempted by water, mine is an world between air and sea. Perhaps it will always be that way.

Swimming in the sea off Skokham with seals and jellyfish.
Swimming with seals and jellyfish off Skokholm Island a few years ago.
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Wild Garden Altered Book

Preston Manor garden
Preston Manor garden.

I’m not alone in loving a wild, secret garden. Tangled ivy, vines, roses, brambles and signs of faded grandeur- all of these I’ve tried to feature in my new altered book, Wild Garden

For me gardens are places to contemplate, reflect, lose myself in layers and textures of shrubs and flowers, layers of time. They are special places to retreat to and hide in. Yes, hide, they are meant to be hidden in – and meant for memories. They are places where time stands still. I think I need quite a lot of still time. But,

“Nothing stands still, except in our memory.”
Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden

The house where I grew up had a garden with a willow tree. I used to climb into the willow tree and sit up there at night. We were in the centre of town, but I had the sky and imagined myself elsewhere, somewhere wilder and more interesting.

I’ve been working on my Wild Garden altered book for the Open House exhibition that I’m involved with in May (more about that soon). I’ve put a lot of hours into the book and lost myself in the detail. Perhaps it has a little too much detail :)

Wild Garden Altered Book
Wild Garden Altered Book

I wanted to add a door that can be opened – to the next layer. A door, symbol of transition from one world to another…

Detail from Wild Garden Altered Book
Detail from Wild Garden Altered Book
Wild Garden Altered Book
Wild Garden altered book.

I didn’t find this altered book as easy as some of my others. This may be because I’m more happy with wild natural themes – forests – as opposed to enclosed spaces. That’s why I wanted to draw a slightly wild, neglected garden – the sort of garden where foxes hang out and a few brambles overun shady corners.

I visited a few gardens for inspiration such as the walled garden of Preston Manor just down the road from me. It’s a 17th century, flint walled garden. At this time of year the magnolia tree is in full bloom. Preston Manor is supposed to be haunted by a certain White Lady. I wonder if she haunts the garden?

Preston Manor garden is lovely and an oasis of peace in the busy city, but I wanted a garden with statues or sculptures, so I chose to visit Charleston House gardens in East Sussex that’s a moderate drive away.

It has one or two interesting sculptures and statues including one beside a pond, a Levitating Woman, known as The Dreamer:

Levatating Lady by Quentin Bell
Levatating Lady by Quentin Bell in Charleston garden.

and a classical statue of a woman emerging from shrubs:

Charleston garden with statue
Charleston garden with statue.

With gardens in mind, I can’t help but think of the book, Tom’s Midnight Garden, that I read as a child. It’s a mystical, ghostly, beautiful book in which time warps and a garden from the past becomes manifest. The garden may be the projected memory of an old lady, who lives upstairs in the old house, but we can only surmise. I’ve made a quick illustration for the story, but I don’t really think I’ve done it justice:

Tom's Midnight Garden
Tom’s Midnight Garden
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In Virtual Forests

I have recently learnt, via an email from Sussex University, about a virtual reality project called Tree VR that enables people to “become a tree”. Intrigued I looked up the project and found the Tree VR website and a couple of videos.

Basically, Tree is a multi-sensory exhibition in which participants can experience the life of a rainforest kapok tree from it’s time as a seed to it’s growth as an adult tree. As part of Tree participants are exposed to various sensory inputs to enhance the illusion of being in a rainforest – sounds, scents and breezes. Tree was shown at the Davos conference in Switzerland.

Here is a little video of the first part, Tree VR – Seedling:

There is another video with more about the installation.

After experiencing Tree, participants are encouraged to support the Rainforest Alliance,

“an international non-profit organization working to build strong forests, healthy agricultural landscapes, and thriving communities through creative, pragmatic collaboration”.

Rainforests and forests in general are so important for the health of the earth. Sadly, they are still being cut down at an alarming rate. Scientists have found that they are vital for carbon-capture and the best thing to offset the effects of climate change. More trees in the ground!

I really wanted to experience Tree VR so was pleased to find a website where you can download it. All I needed was somewhere with the right VR equipment to “play” it.

Luckily Kevin, my partner, has a friend, Andy Baker, who is well into VR. So we went to his house and tried it out. Tree was my first VR experience.

Experiencing Tree VR
Experiencing Tree VR

It was all a bit mind-blowing, not real but surreal. It was an excursion into an alternative world, an interior world like that of dreams and the forests of one’s imagination. I was amazed at the very real sense of space and depth all around me. As a seed I climbed through metres of soil. On the level of a giant mushroom and leafcutter ants I broke through the leaflitter and ascended higher and higher. Macaws, morphos and bats flew all around. At first my arms were leafy blades but soon they became proper branches with bark and leaves and hung with lianas. My body became the tree’s trunk. Looking down I felt a touch of vertigo. Night came along with a huge moon, stars and birds flying home against the darkened sky.

I won’t say how Tree ends as that would spoil it for anyone who gets the chance to have a go.

In the rainforest mood, I thought I’d make another rainforest altered book – another forest of my imagination – but this time in colour. Based on a Central/South American rainforest, it features a kapok/ceiba tree along with a tapir, agoutis and scarlet macaws.

Rainforest Altered Book
Rainforest altered book in colour.
Rainforest altered book detail
Among the trees in my Rainforest altered book with the tapir and a scarlet macaw.
Rainforest altered book detail
Lianas, cecropia trees and palms among the rainforest trees of my Rainforest altered book.

I plan to display this altered book at an open house I’m particupating in during Brighton Festival in May. I think I’d like to donate some of the sale price to the Rainforest Alliance or another rainforest charity. I’ll write more about the open house nearer the time.

I went a step further and decided to grow a kapok/ceiba tree. I bought a few seeds and have just sown them in a tray after soaking them in tepid water for 24 hours. Somehow I need to create an acidic rainforest environment and try and keep the seeds warm – they need an optimum temperature of 25C. With this warm, Anthropocene February we’re having, under plastic on the window sill might do fine.

Kapok seeds planted.
Ceiba pentandra seeds sown.
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A Prehistoric Forest and an Interesting Find

My interest in trees, forests and geology continues. On Saturday, Kevin and I went to Pett Level beach, east along the Sussex coast from Brighton. We arranged our trip to coincide with a low tide because when the sea is out the wave-cut platform reveals the remnants of a prehistoric forest. A peaty layer of ancient tree trunks, roots and boles can be seen covered in seaweed and pock-marked by piddock holes.

We were surprised at how easy it was to see whole tree trunks. Some of these may have come from shipwrecks off the coast, but the spongy wood is likely to be from the sunken forest, which is about 6000 years old. Evidence of alder, birch, hazel, alder buckthorn, yew, ash and willow trees have been found along with brambles, sedges, meadow rue, bedstraws and marsh marigold. This mixed woodland flourished when the sea level was 60 metres lower than it is today.

Pett Level beach showing sunken forest remains.
Pett Level beach showing sunken forest remains.
Tree trunk on Pett Level beach
Tree trunk on Pett Level beach.
Sunken forest on clay - Pett Level beach
Sunken forest on soft clay – Pett Level beach.
Pett Level Forest
Imagining the view from a cave overlooking Pett Level forest in Neolithic times.

It is strange walking over this ghost forest imagining the animals, large and small, that roamed among the trees and the people who possibly hunted there.

Our day was enriched by the sight and sounds of oystercatchers, cormorants, fulmars, curlews and a peregrine that sat on a cliff perch in the weak sunshine.

High up in the cliffs that overlook the area, we saw a cave now occupied by fulmars. but where archaeologists have found flint tools. They propose that it could have been a lookout used by Neolithic people for spotting game in the forest below. No doubt the cave was much more extensive in earlier times.

Cave in cliff - Pett Level beach
Cave in cliff – Pett Level beach.
Cliff strata - Pett Level beach
Cliff strata – Pett Level beach

The cliffs are eroding fast, up to a metre a year. On our way back we watched as a trickle of stones fell down a section of cliff, where people had been walking a moment earlier. This was followed by a loud crash as a bush from the scrub above came down. I have never heard the earth sound so loud. Fortunately no one was nearby when it happened.

Cliff fall - Pett Level beach
A fallen bush and rock fall – Pett Level beach

Further back in time the area was frequented by dinosaurs, their footprints have been found on the beach. We didn’t find much in the way of fossils or footprints, but Kevin found something else of interest and called me over. He wondered whether it was a piece of crab carapace. When I saw it I thought it must be a piece of skull as it had sutures, the wiggly joints between skull plates. We decided to take it home.

On Monday morning we contacted Archaeology SE to see if they could identify it. Their forensic archaeologist identified it as the back of a human skull and told us to contact the police as soon as possible! Three police officers came to collect it and took our details.

Perhaps it belonged to a sailor aboard one of the ships tragically wrecked along the Sussex or Kent coast. Such shipwrecks include RMS Alaunia in 1913, in which two crew members lost their lives. Hopefully we’ll find out a little more about it in a few weeks time.

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The Tapestry Fox

In my previous post about my latest altered book, I mentioned that one of the pages – the fox page – reminded me of the Millefleur(s) art style. Millefleurs means “thousand flowers” in French and was a style using many flowers in the background of European tapestries between 1480 and 1520. The style was brought back into fashion by William Morris and his company Morris & Co.

I looked again at tapestries and particularly like Tapestry: Greenery designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris & Co. It hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, US and features deer, rabbits and a fox beneath chestnut, oak and pear trees:

Tapestry Greenery
Tapestry Greenery designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris and Co. Photo credit Plum Leaves on Flickr.

I love botanical detail in tapestries and paintings, especially with my recent rekindled interest in plants. i like the way individual flower species are depicted. I first really took note of millefleur in Botticelli’s Primavera in which there are about 190 species of flowering plants depicted and many have symbolic meanings:

Primavera - Botticelli
Primavera painting in my Botticelli book showing flowers throughout the painting.

I have decided to write/illustrate another little book that I’m titling The Tapestry Fox inspired by Tapestry Greenery and of course, the foxes that live around my way.

The Tapestry Fox sketchbook
A few notes, ideas and doodles for The Tapestry Fox.

The fox as totem animal is coming back into my life. it is a good luck animal for me. I’ll follow it wherever it takes me. I’ve worked on a few ideas for the book:

Fox in the Woodland
Fox in the Woodland – a possible illustration for my new little book, The Tapestry Fox.
The Tapestry Fox Cover Idea
The Tapestry Fox cover idea.

In the first picture above I’ve added teasel, bramble, oak and hornbeam – I try and add plants that can be identified. i haven’t managed the sinewy trunks of hornbeam. I particularly like adding bramble (of the rose family there are over 300 species in the UK and deer love it so you can often tell if a deer has passed by the bitten ends of new bramble shoots. Bramble was used for fencing where barned wire is used now and then there are blackberries! A great plant!)

While on the fox trail, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of millefleur and foxes at the woodland edge in a larger, A3 picture. I’ve called it Millefeuilles Fox – Thousand Leaves Fox:

Millefeuilles Fox
Millefeuilles Fox

In the picture stars are sprinkled among the leaves and plants so the sky becomes the land and the land sky. I like to think it might be an allegory of some sort with a hidden meaning :)

I’m looking forward to visiting the woodland edges, making sketches, taking photos and gathering a few plant specimens. With spring comes primrose, white dead nettle, yellow archangel, lords and ladies, stitchwort, herb robert, red campion, nettles….