Rain from Heaven

Sipping, slurping, gulping, burping
Garden thirsty for the rain
Leaves unfurling, roots uncurling
Supping up the soft wet rain

Flowers dripping, grass-heads tipping
Holding shiny beads of rain
Lady’s Mantle holds the candle
Cupping silver drops of rain

Heaven opens, but so gently
Shining threads of silver rain
Falling softly onto soil-crust
Healing all the Mother’s pain

Image: Lady’s Mantle by Elen Sentier
Land Song Series © Elen Sentier 2017 all rights reserved
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Journey with Trees

Trees for Life’s Corporate & Trusts Development Officer Joyce Gilbert trades funding application forms for a  ‘Journey of Trees’ – a Gaelic place-naming weekend of tree planting and pony trekking.

Last weekend found me walking beside a couple of ponies on a “Journey with Trees” along an old Military Road between Glenmoriston and Invergarry via Fort Augustus. The journey was the initiation of a project I’ve put together to celebrate the place of trees in the local landscape around Dundreggan, but also to highlight the fascinating links between our natural heritage and the Gaelic language. Look closely at ordinary OS maps and you will see a plethora of Gaelic place-names for just about every loch, peak and stream in this part of Scotland. My interest in this was sparked by the realisation that these names can act as a sort of “ecological memory” where the names of animals and plants, including trees are recorded. Just across the Glen from Dundreggan Conservation Estate is Creag a’ Mhadaidh meaning Wolf Crag while just to the east of this is Coille nam Beithe – the Birch Wood. Amazingly, the birch wood is still there, after who knows how many centuries since the name was given to the place by local people. Of course, there are no wolves in Glenmoriston today, but the fact that a remote corrie in the glen is named after an animal that only disappeared from Scotland sometime in the 17th or early 18th Century, is food for thought. Read more …

Being Wild & Hope Bourne

“For money, you sell the hours and the days of your life, which are the only true wealth you have,” she wrote. “You sell the sunshine, the dawn and the dusk, the moon and the stars, the wind and the rain, the green fields and the flowers, the rivers and the sweet fresh air. You sell health and joy and freedom.” So said Hope Bourne, and so say I.

As a somewhat decrepit cripple with bad eyesight, the gods only know how I’d survive off the grid … but I would infinitely rather be there, out in the wilds, than live even in a hamlet, let alone a village or a town. My nearest neighbour now is a quarter of a mile away and that’s far too close! I’d prefer something like five or ten miles to the next nearest person. No, I don’t like living amongst people. And I don’t feel safe amongst them either. I do feel completely safe out in the wilds, amongst the animals and trees, the rivers, mountains and sea, I know absolutely, in my bones, that none of them would ever harm me … but people? Hmmm! Not a safe species at all. Perhaps some of you feel that way too.

One of my biggest fears about growing old is that I won’t be able to take care of myself and have to go live in a home. I think I’d rather take a long walk in January, in the snow, in the Cairngorms, with a bottle of good brandy and a box of painkillers! I would die quickly of suffocation in a home, surrounded by people with whom i have nothing in common, so why not go easy in my beloved wild lands?

I was reading a piece about “ecopsychology” and “pachamama” this morning. Hmmm, again. All sounds so “head-stuff” to me, carefully thought out and written, by academics and with lots of holes (lacunae – to be properly academic about it) in the philosophy, and all seeming to fit neatly with the axe these people have to grind. I know, in my bones, that in order to live (not survive) people must stop prostituting themselves and all the joys of this Earth for money, so as far as the eco-lot go I agree with them somewhat there. But why do we have to go to the other side of the world to find it, find the means of reconnecting with the Earth? Perhaps because the powers-that-be, politicians, academics and others to whom we give our power and turn into authority-figures, tell us there are no indigenous people here in Britain. Ha!

Exmoor valley

Exmoor valley

Do you realise that when you agree with this premise it’s because you are accepting someone else’s definition of indigenous? You give them the power to tell you what the word means. You give them the power to tell you what you are. Is that good?

Indigenous, from the dictionary and the Thesaurus, means native, original, homegrown, local … well, I don’t know about you but I’m all those things with regard to my homeland, Britain. Oh yes, I’ve mixed blood, but what is that? Blood is made of molecules, atoms and particles of the Earth’s body, bits I borrow from her for each lifetime to make a spacesuit for my spirit to live on Planet Earth. They change throughout my life – for instance, the dust you hoover up is largely skin cells you and the rest of your family have shed over the week. Cells die, you shed them, and you grow new ones. That happens with blood cells too. Everything you eat goes to make the new cells, so bits of you come from carrot and cabbage, venison, cheese, pinto beans, grains, beer, coca cola (if you drink the horrid stuff!), etc, etc. so what is all this blood-fetish? DNA, I hear you cry. Well, what is DNA? Is it physical – yes. Is it made of particles and atoms and molecules of the Earth’s body – yes it is. Yes, it holds certain programmes, like how to grow an eye, what colour your skin will be and such, but these also change, that’s thought to be likely how Neanderthal man got wiped out, by interbreeding with other varieties of human. Like how the Scottish Wildcat has been nearly wiped out by interbreeding with domestic cats. So just how far back are you taking this blood-fetish thing? The DNA goes back into the apes and monkeys our human boies developed from; and back into the bodies they came from; and back into the single-cell organisms before them … etc. So I am indigenous, whatever Mr Cameron and other politicians and academics like to say. And so are you.


Tarr Steps

And I am connected deeply with the Earth, though all those molecules and atoms and particles. I’m also deeply connected to her spirit. When I’m surrounded by the fog-haze of human thinking in a town or village or city it really is like wading through mud to reach into the spirit-of-place where I am. It’s much harder to feel nature. It’s also very easy to be mentally swamped by the shibboleths, the beliefs of most people beliefs which are largely empty of real meaning, of the people all round me. Large groups of people who don’t go in for deep thinking spread a miasma around them of their own beliefs, it’s cloying and very hard to resist. I can, and I do when I have to go into conurbations, bit even for someone with my years of experience in doing it, it’s very hard work. For most folk, who don’t even realise it’s there, it has them completely in thrall.

So I try to go there as little as possible. I avoid being amongst groups or crowds people unless I choose. I stick with my friends the trees and the animals, birds, fishes and plants, and rocks. And that’s where I live, not as wild as Hope Bourne, but fairly off-planet to most folk *grin*. This way, I can hear easily what the Earth and all her spirit-parts want, and want of me. I also have the space-time to do my best to do what she and they wish of me. The groups (small) of folk I associate with every now and again, all feel the same way although not all of them have, as yet, achieved as comfy a lifestyle as me, but they’re all working on it.

Connecting with nature, with the Earth, with wildness, means you just have to make the space-time for it. You really won’t do it in large groups, nor festival weekends, nor workshops of loads of people! You have to take your courage in your hands and be alone, be alone for long, long past when it gets scary; be alone in the dark, in the woods, by a river, on the seashore, up a mountain – all of those. And be alone without even your mobile phone turned on!

Spider tree

Spider tree

We’re not taught or encouraged to be alone, so we’re always deafened and befogged by other people and their thoughtforms. Nature, the Earth, the spirit-world, can’t reach us through the fog and, most of the time, we don’t even know to ask it to come to us! We sit about, in a coma-like state, waiting for someone/something to do it all for us. Living wild, even only as wild as I do, means you just can’t be so lazy as that, you have to get off your butt and ask, communicate with the natural world, and with the spirit-world.

The ecopsychology lot don’t seem to realise this. They don’t seem to know anything about folk like Hope Bourne (who, of course, they don’t consider to be indigenous!), nor do they comprehend just how much she had to be in touch, communicating all the time with everything non-human all around her in order to live. Until we all grasp this, that it’s up to each of us to get out there and communicate with all of our ancient brethren who are not human, we can go to as many workshops as we please. They’re just a means of passing the time, like X-Box! They’re not real and they will do nothing but wind us up in yet another fog so we know nothing but what some other person has told us. I wonder how much of the human race will ever dare to be real?

As Hope shows us, there is hope for all of us … but only if and when we get ourselves out of our comfort-box and dare, risk, begin completely alone.




Dancing the Heart to Wildness

Dancing is something most of us want to do and love doing when we can, even if we feel we need to be on our own to do it else we get embarrassed. Rhythm moves our feet, all our muscles, we want to move even if our social experience tells us not to. Rhythm, of drums, rattles, of stones knocking together, hands clapping or of the feet themselves stamping on the ground, all of this moves us.

Dancing is something most of us want to do and love doing when we can even if we feel we need to be on our own to do it else we get embarrassed. Rhythm moves our feet, all our muscles, we want to move even if our social experience tells us not to. Rhythm, of drums, rattles, of stones knocking together, hands clapping or of the feet themselves stamping on the ground, all of this moves us.

Often when people dance, be it at a disco, at home, at a party or out in the wild, they find themselves not in their usual frame of mind, not in their usual selves, elsewhere. Sometimes this is called trance, and sometimes the experience can take you a long way out of yourself into someone you hadn’t known before or certainly hadn’t remembered for a long time. Likely this person is your wild self, the self whose cells and body-memory can reach you … and reach back in time, maybe back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors even, to show you how it feels to live in tune and in harmony with all the rest of creation.

It’s such a simple thing, to dance, or so it sounds when you say it, but often it’s not so easy for us to do. Have you ever danced your way along a footpath across Exmoor, for instance? All on your own, nobody there but the hawks and the buzzards and the ravens and the sheep and the cattle and the ponies, and all the little creatures hiding in the grass and the heather, and the larks rising and singing all around you. Yes, you’re certainly not alone even if there aren’t any other humans around. And the other life-forms take notice of you too. They watch and sometimes comment like a snort from a pony or a loud “Caark” from a raven tumbling overhead. Yes, I’ve had the ravens dancing and tumbling over me while I’m dancing on the path, it’s good to have friends dancing with you.

Once you begin dancing on the footpath you likely find yourself singing as well, probably something wordless, humming, making vowel sounds, maybe more. Voice singing is one name for it. The old peoples all over the world do it and have their own names for it, like dancing it’s another thing that is deep in our bones.

Dancing and singing are indeed deep in our bones, in everyone’s bones I think, but may well be heavily overlaid with the patina of reserve that our modern civilisation expects of us. And, for most of us, this is a taboo that’s really hard to shed. We get stuck in the “Who’s watching me? What will they think of me? They’ll think I’m nuts! They’ll shun me!” syndrome that probably got handed down to us by parents (from their own training) from when we were knee-high to grasshoppers, indeed the patina of normality begins to be painted onto us probably from birth! It’s like a second skin that suffocates our true skin and so our true selves … like being painted all over with gold. The new skins shines and appears beautiful to our conditioned eyes but, in truth, it suffocates our real selves.

Dancing helps us shed this unnatural skin.

And so does singing, and drumming, and knocking stones together, and humming.

We have to forget learning steps, learning tunes, and learning set rhythms – although these are not necessarily wrong they can get stuck in the thinking mind as the only right way to do things! We need to relearn to allow our bodies to connect with the Earth and respond to the rhythms she gives us through the land, the path, even the pavement and the floor of our house. She’s always there, always under our feet even if she too wears extra skins of concrete and road surface and buildings, and we can always hear her through our feet. Even walking to do the shopping, down the pavement of the High Street, you can allow your feet to slip into a subtle rhythm – no need to go break-dancing unless you really wish to!

And it makes a big difference to our bodies. It loosens up the muscles, relieves tension, opens up the senses, stops the mind grabbing such hard control that we see nothing but what it feels safe with. All of that stuff on clenched muscles and clenched minds causes inordinate amounts of stress in us and so makes us much more liable to pick up a bug, a virus, strain a muscle, and suffer from anxiety, possibly even depression. All that stress stuff helps us to feel bad for most of the time … not good!

And it successfully hides us from, and hides from us, all the wonderful world we live in, all the beautiful creatures and plants with which we share Planet Earth. And add in that is also means we cannot see all the non-ordinary reality around us – it’s hidden behind the mask of normality our conditioning keeps us wearing.

Shakespeare gets Hamlet to say something really meaningful for all of us – There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

There are indeed, at least in the current civilised view of reality which is extremely small and limited. And dancing can help us open that box, put our noses over the edge and smell the coffee.

I’ve danced all my life, wildly in the wilderness and professionally as jazz dancer too. I’ve done the specialised stuff of learning techniques and steps and choreography, and I’ve done (and still do) dancing in the wild. I dance in my home, in my garden and out on the Welsh hills a few miles away. And I still dance on the moorland paths of Exmoor and Dartmoor, and in the Highlands of Sutherland too. If you’d like to dance with me I do days on the hills, contact me at elen.sentier@yahoo.co.uk