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Working on a New Booklet

Drawing desk
My makeshift desk where I work. I like to sit on the floor rather than at a table.

I seem to be continuing the woods and trees theme this year with my new booklet. This time it’s a story, a kind of folktale and I like to describe it as a “tale from the forest” and it’s called The Memory Tree. It is taking time though, already I have worked on several drafts and done many pictures – some for a colour version which I’ve decided to shelve for the moment.

However, I thought I’d show one or two pictures from the tale, a colour spread of a forest scene and it’s equivalent in black and white (the one I’ll use for the book) and a picture of the main character, a girl named Echo.

Night Scene in Colour

Night Scene Black and White

Girl in Leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While she slumbered, a dream came to Echo, a dream of tree spirits and creatures she had never seen, watching, waiting, spying and humming in the darkness around her. It was a dream too, of forgetfulness, her tree, her garden, her parents and her past seeped away into the darkness as she slept.

Trees, woods and forests are so important to me. I need to take frequent trips out to the woods and it has been particularly lovely walking out in the Autumn woods recently, just before the storms hit and the blustery weather made its debut. Here is a favourite tree at Markstakes Common where we walked recently. It’s a large, spreading oak that’s been climbed in and well loved over time. All the woodland and forest visits I’ve made around the world – from woods like this to rainforests in Costa Rica – are distilled into my little story making the forest in it a lush, fictious kingdom from anywhere and nowhere, a forest of my imagination.

Oak at Markstakes Common

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Whispers from the forest

I am, once again, in the forest. An aqua forest… of dreams… caught up in an entanglement of roots, alert to the breath and whisper of rock, of clod, of underground river.

As in the poem, Lost, by David Wagnor, I must listen… stand still… let the forest find me.

In the Marine Forest of Dreams

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

— David Wagoner

New Year and change. Letting the silt of the old year settle; lingering in shifting currents. I took a wander through a nearby wood, the sun, bright, cold and clear through tangled hands of branches, taut and white like a drum in the sky. A forest seeded in my mind…

Before Christmas, I listened to a play by Kneehigh Theatre on Radio 4 called “The Wild Bride”. The story was based on the fairy tale, The Handless Maiden and an overview of the tale can be read on the theatre website here.

In the tale a poor forester accidently sells his daughter to the Devil. When she goes feral and becomes a wild thing in the forest, I began to listen a bit more intently;

“Her dreams became deep rooted and full of forest”.

Wild or feral people, animals and characters intrigue me right now:

– The Thing in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast… “something human that stood dappled with leaf-shaped shadows, a child, with its thick hair hacked off close to its head and the face freckled like a bird’s egg. The body, slender, indeed thin, appeared, when the child began to move, to be without weight.”

– the wild child in David Malouf‘s An Imaginary Life“He has not yet captured his individual soul out of the universe about him. His self is outside him, its energy distributed among the beasts and birds whose life he shares, among leaves, water, grasses, clouds, thunder – whose existence he can be at home in because they hold, each of them, some particle of his spirit.”

Perhaps they represent a freer, more primitive self, a closeness to the wild spirit and nature we once had millenia back. Perhaps they simply remind us of the untamed child of our own past, I may have been somehow closer to nature then.

I took a biro, a large sheet of brown paper and inspired by Eva Jospin, doodled a forest. Here is my first Forest on Brown Paper and a photoshop-inverted one because I love blue so much. Wild child sketches follow.

Forest on brown paper

Inverted Forest

Wild Girl

Wild Child

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Spring in the woods

“In the woods, the spirit can stretch and change, can move like a willow, elastic in spring…In the woods, you may be lost in your thoughts, willingly lost, creatively lost, which allows you to enter the mind’s forests, where the wind within can blow you somewhere sought and as yet unfound….In the forest is a child. But inside the child, will always be the forest. Breathe the forest deeply enough in childhood, and the birds will still be singing seventy years on.”
From Forests of the Mind by Jay Griffiths

The Mens West SussexHere in the UK, it’s Spring and I’ve been out in the woods enjoying it. Woodland flowers are blooming and birds are singing their hearts out. A week ago, while wandering a wood near Brighton, I watched as a stoat was chased by some very protective rabbits; it was a real wildlife treat!
The Mens West SussexThe other day, Kevin and I ventured further to two of my favourite woods in West Sussex, The Mens and Ebernoe Common both owned by The Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The Mens is an open beech and oak wood, with other trees such as holly and midland hawthorn. I chose to take photos looking into the light which streamed through the open canopy and Spring growth. Great tits dominated on the bird front, but we also saw or heard woodpeckers, treecreepers and nuthatches. The paths were soft with last year’s leaflitter and some slopes were dotted with wood spurge and lesser celandine. We had the wood to ourselves and one of its beauties is that it’s big enough to get lost in! But I’ve never been truly lost…in a wood…yet.

Stream at Ebernoe CommonEbernoe Common is perhaps my favourite wood. It’s here that I come to see woodland butterflies such as silver-washed fritillaries and a plethora of grasshoppers and crickets in Summer, or to do bat surveys and enjoy the sun sinking mauve over Furnace Pond. On our recent visit, we spent some time around the lake watching orange tip butterflies mating or laying eggs on cuckoo flowers on the wet margins.

Furnace Pond at Ebernoe

But besides the wildlife, and escaping the town, I agree with Jeanette Winterson that woods

“..are places to dream….There is a wooded place in our heads….the forest holds the memory of other lives and other ways of life…is one vast memory system that binds with our own.”

The bluebells are coming out now. If you’re interested in finding a wood near you check out the Visitwoods website.

 

Embracing the Tree of life

Lost by David Wagoner.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you
.

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