Monday, 19 September 2016

Into the Forest

It has begun. I have stepped off the beaten track and away from everything familiar. I heard my name called in the sound of the wind rushing through leaves, shaking branches, whispering to me spirit to spirit. It has been coming for a while, and despite the months of anticipation and preparation, the first step was still a hesitant one.

Into the Forest | A.L. Loveday
'A road. For so long in my mind it had been an unquestioned symbol of travel, adventure and escape, but in reality it’s a lousy metaphor. A road is a tunnel that traps you in linear places, linear concepts and linear time. It provides ease and convenience, but cheats you of everything you might learn if you only had the time and curiosity to leave it.'
- From The Idle Traveller, by Dan Kieran -

I needed to leave, I knew, in order to find something I have long been searching for. I'd been unfurling tentative feelers for the past six years, both outward and inward, and the time had come to try and answer some questions and explore ideas that had captured my imagination.

Into the Forest | A.L. Loveday
'T.H. White's Arthur is sent to the forest to seek his identity; many children find woodlands the right place to go to talk to themselves, to dream themselves into a different being, to effect their changeling masquerades away from the eyes of adults. For under the gaze of others, a child can be forced to hold one form, to keep a single identity, but in woodshade and tree-shadow, a child's spirit can stretch, alter and change; it is always easier to change yourself in the dark.'

I am here to learn, to explore, and also to heal. I am here to work and to play. I am here to be alone with myself and engage in community. 

Into the Forest | A.L. Loveday
‘To know the woods and to love the woods is to embrace it all, the light and the dark -- the sun dappled glens and the rank, damp hollows; beech trees and bluebells and also the deadly fungi and poison oak. The dark of the woods represents the moon side of life: traumas and trials, failures and secrets, illness and other calamities. The things that change us, temper us, shape us; that if we're not careful defeat or destroy us...but if we pass through that dark place bravely, stubbornly, wisely, turn us all into heroes. ‘

And yet, despite all the fairy tale warnings, sometimes we're compelled to run to the dark of the woods, away from all that is safe and familiar -- driven by desperation, perhaps, or the lure of danger, or the need for change. Young heroes stray from the safe, well-trodden path through foolishness or despair...but perhaps also by canny premeditation, knowing that venturing into the great unknown is how lives are tranformed… 

Sara Maitland compares the transformational magic in fairy tales to the everyday magic that turns caterpillars into butterflies. "[S]omething very dreadful and frightening happens inside the chrysalis," she points out. "We use the word 'cocoon' now to mean a place of safety and escape, but in fact the caterpillar, having constructed its own grave, does not develop smoothly, growing wings onto its first body, but disintegrates entirely, breaking down into organic slime which then regenerates in a completely new form. It goes as a child into the dark place and is lost; it emerges as the princess, or proven hero. The forest is full of such magic, in reality and in the stories."'

If I have learnt anything from fairy tales, it is that you get nowhere in life without straying off the path, at least for a little while. The woods are there for you to lose yourself in, but, and this is the important thing, they are where we find ourselves again. We need the woods to become more than what we were.

Into the Forest | A.L. Loveday
‘We need the woods—the metaphor and symbol of the woods, the mythology of the woods. But all stories begin in a real place—as breath and movement in a physical space—and soak up the colour and texture of that place. When the woods are gone, the metaphors lose their power, the stories cease speaking from the silence of the trees.’
- Via Unsettling Wonder -  
We need our woods, but once again, they are under threat. The Forest of Dean, my home for the next few months, had not escaped the attention of gas-hungry predators; luckily, in the last couple of days, it has emerged that the companies in question have decided not to explore for gas. This is a huge relief. Our green spaces are sacred resources simply for being green, and the benefits they bring to us as they are should never be undervalued. 

I don't quite know what changes will occur, or what magic will happen here amongst the trees. But there's only one way to find out...

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Terri Windling's Tolkien Lecture

After my last post I thought it would be a good time to share Terri Windling's incredible talk for the fourth annual Tolkien lecture - although I'm sure many of you will have seen it already! 

She delivered her lecture at Pembroke college earlier this year and used the platform to discuss the state of fantasy literature today, focussing in particular on the lack of connection modern works, and modern people, forge with the land. Her words deeply resonated with me; the books I sought out as a child, the ones I seek out now and much of the writing I produce “behind the scenes”, if not in public, seeks this essence of connection to place. I could try to explain further, but I’m sure you would much prefer to hear Terri’s incredible lecture yourselves:

Please don't forget to treat yourselves with a visit to Terri's blog, Myth & Moor!

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Surge in Nature Writing: Reconnecting Body and Soul

In her exploration of the 2016 Wainwright Prize for nature writing for The Guardian, Alison Flood noted that more and more people are turning to this genre as 'a balm for the woes of modern life'. The article explains how the genre has evolved and subdivided and reached a popular new sub-genre, in which nature writing is used as a tool for reflection and deep personal healing. Despite a shortlist containing nature writing in a variety of styles, the judges unanimously voted for The Outrun to win, in which author Amy Liptrot returns to her home in Orkney in order to recover after a traumatising time living in London.

Dame Fiona Reynolds - chair of judges - said of the books: “[They show us that] there’s more to life than the economy, or foreign policy – these writers are articulating beautifully the ways in which the human spirit needs to connect with the world around us, and to respect the world around us.”

The Surge in Nature Writing | A.L. Loveday | 2016

Are we collectively beginning to remember something buried deep within us? Times are changing, souls are stirring, beliefs are shifting; and these books, this award, is the most mainstream recognition of this that I have come across.

As humans, we were never meant to be at war with Nature, as if She were an enemy to conquer. And yet this is exactly what we have done; we have denied that we are a part of Her, out of fear for Her power, unpredictability and for Her destructive potential. How ironic that in the process of trying to suppress and tame these qualities in our outer world we have exaggerated them within ourselves. How ironic that in trying to create outward order we have thrown our souls into chaos. For centuries we have systematically severed an integral part of ourselves, and gradually we are opening our eyes to the need to draw it back together.

The Surge in Nature Writing | A.L. Loveday | 2016

The journey contained in the pages of these types of books is a holistic one, where the mind, spirit and body are healed by reuniting them again. I am well aware that at this point there is a temptation to roll your eyes and think of those Instagram posts of slim white women on a yoga calendar and juice detox - and I believe that there is a place for that type of healing journey, it is totally valid, but also that this branding (yes, we are self-branding our lives here on social media!) of the journey does not resonate with a vast majority of us, our bodies, our experiences, and we need to see it mirrored in different ways in order for it to strike that all important chord.

And yet most of us will have felt that deep sense of peace after a day in the garden or allotment, digging or planting, hands at work in the earth. Or that inner smile when we've treated our bodies right, by feeding it nutritious food or simply by allowing it to relax and not pushing it too hard. Whether in a book jacket, an Instagram post, or a bowl of porridge instead of bacon for breakfast, we are exploring this reconnection. The trick now, as we hear the call and the pull from a variety of places both in the outer world and from little nagging inner parts, is to listen and act.

The Surge in Nature Writing | A.L. Loveday | 2016

I'm a Reiki healer, and I could talk your ear off about energy layers and the interconnectedness of everything. I'm a reader and writer and I could bang on and on about these books and why you should read them. But above and beyond everything I say or believe I am, I am a human being, and you are too, and so I know that I don't need to say anything else. Because I know that if you choose to take some time to go into the wild, into Nature - and I mean really do it, not just look at it through a car window - and you get your clothes a bit muddy or your skin a bit scratched and your hair knotted in the wind and you inhale won't need to read any books or any blog posts to understand exactly what they are saying and understand the inherent truth beyond the words.