Sunday, 30 January 2011

Past Meetings

One of the woodland I regularly travel could in some ways be described as unremarkable. It has no historic trees or tales to fill the mind and due to being used for timber harvesting it has an overly high proportion of conifers when compared to a natural english wood. However it is enjoyed by walkers, cyclists, horse riders, photographers, birdwatchers and occasionally bushcrafters.

A few years ago it was considered for development by the Forestry Commission. As you could imagine this was of concern to people living in the nearby villages and on the edges of the wood itself. One local man organised a meeting at a nearby village hall and invited local councilors and asked if a representative from the Forestry Commission would attend.

A few days later I found myself sitting at the back of this meeting listening to the various points and debates being raised and watching the personalities involved to read their unsaid intent. Many of the locals were concerned that the wood would become a "McDonalds" wood, making reference to another Nottinghamshire wood where bikes could be hired, adventure courses had been built and you could park and enjoy all these for a fee. All well and good if you want to take little Johnny and his pals for a fun afternoon, but not so great if you want to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet or if you don't have enough money to pay for the activities or the parking. One of the other residents told us of his issues with anti-social behaviour in the wood, and of him and his son being propositioned one evening by people using the wood for illicit activities. I know such activities do occur in that wood from time to time, but I have walked that wood at night for nearly nine years and found such people have left me well alone. The local councilor was an interesting figure and her tones and delivery easily gained the support of the locals, I am however a cynical type and wondered how much she took from the support and the deeper or even subconscious motives behind her eloquence.

In short, it seemed that despite some issues with people in the wood, local residents seemed happy to have a place to walk and that the wood was a valued space. The Forestry Commission seemed to have been looking for a test piece for small woodland development and found on the whole that the locals were actually quite happy with what they had already. Reading between the lines I had the feeling that the Forestry Commission was under pressure to make more revenue from the woodlands.

The development never took place and aside from some trees being harvested and other replanted the wood is still as it was. It seems that the desire to make money out of our woodland areas is still being driven along with the sale of the issues and problems that currently dwell on public land. After looking at the defra map for the proposed forest sell off, it seems my local wood is marked for sale to small commercial developers. If it was to be sold off, I would assume that the couple of public footpaths that run through the wood would be retained, but the smaller tracks and trails would not have such rights. It is these smaller tracks that most of the woodland users enjoy and are the key to finding the peace and quiet that many seek there.

As the population and its demands grow, we are in danger of turning our countryside into a giant domestic farm. Space and wilderness is needed to keep in touch with nature and put things into perspective. I have no intentions of paying more money to walk safe paths of a commercial adventure walk or see forests turned into nothing more than plantations and crops.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Folds of Earth

From the Peak District, over the West Pennine Moors up the the Highlands of Scotland, the moorlands have always been a special place for me. Under the moonlight I find them dominated by the elements of air during blustery evenings and the quieter power of earth on still nights.

During such still nights I would seek shelter from the gentlest of breezes and sit in the wind shadow of a dry stone wall, casting my eye upon the landscape. At first glance earth does not have the immediacy of air, fire or moving water. But with the slowest of heartbeats and an understanding of time beyond the moment the powerful movements of the earths floor can be appreciated and the effect on life and the other elements can be seen.

I can understand the ramblers and hikers who tread the land during the day, the colours of the hillside and the distant views are beautiful to behold. But for me the stillness of night and the moonlight give an insight into the power and depth of this element and the dimension of time in which the mind needs to dwell to see what the eyes cannot.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Pools of Dead Light

As part of my wanderings last night, I strayed into a town not too far from my usual tracks. The stillness and lifelessness was disturbing, aside from an occasional passing car the only noise for quite some time was my own footsteps hollowly reflecting off the walls. Sodium lamps provided an uncomfortable glow of dead pool lighting, passing under these I noticed my skin tones became green giving a corpse like appearance. I looked up to the night sky and there was nothing but dull blackness. With closed doors and curtains drawn tight the residents huddled within the rabble of housing, doubtless the TV was their only window on the world for the evening. Eventually I passed one other soul, a large workman wearing a scruffy high visibility jacket standing in the ferocious white glare of shop lighting. He grunted and grumbled noises into his mobile phone while in his other hand he clutched a polystyrene box stuffed with formless fatty meat, the stench of which was uncomfortable and stomach turning as I passed beneath his gaze.

It was a relief to make my journey up to the woodlands. Once among the trees I could feel the gentle breath of the night air and the rustling of the trees. Even on a dark January night the subtle energies of the wood called, the night sky told tales of distant settlements and a glimpse of the stars through the passing clouds. Here I could feel the energies of the living world and the cycles in which they move.

We are a product of our environment, the more time we spend in that environment the more we take on its characteristics and it permeates what we are and forms what we become.

Friday, 21 January 2011

To Be Left Alone

There are often occasions during my wandering when I will happen upon something of beauty and substance. For a moment I may turn on the lantern to look upon flora, sometimes I stand quietly in the darkness to watch the shadow form of an owl in the branches above or the fleeting glimpse of a small creature in a hedgerow.

For me it is the moment of such a sight or sound becomes inspiration. In recalling such a moment an artist may portray a magnificent image, a bard may enhance a tale or the actions of an individual may be influenced by the manner of the subject. It is the importance of the moment itself and not the collection of the physical aspects beyond our needs that I hold dear. Sadly it seems those who lack artistry, empathy or appreciation can be focused on the power to possess, accumulation and exclusivity.

In our transient existence it is living the moment while others take that seems so difficult. Where possible I think things are often best left alone and only the learned lessons and inspirations should be carried away to give meaning to the future.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Perception of Colour is the Value of Light.

Just before the full moon I was walking a broad track with a boarder of grass and shrub set against a backdrop of pine trees. The scene was beautiful under the radiance of the moon and the breath of the night air.

The branches and few remaining leaves fluttered silver in the brisk wind, the pine trees were jet black  below the canopy with shafts of moonlight punching down to the woodland floor. Above the silver needles of the canopy the deep blue night sky stretched out to distant stars and wonders that live within the mind but are not held by the eye.

The natural light of the moon seemed to purify the scene and bring my attention to the moment. Once again I felt the connection of mind body and spirit to the point in time, place and being. It is something I never tire of feeling.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sunday Evening at the Jolly Taxman Inn

Stepping out of the blustery wind and the early evening my eyes adjusted to the glow of electric lighting in the tavern. A rabble of late middle aged men clustered around the bar, the afternoons alcohol had raised their voices and lowered their inhibitions as they gave their opinions and set the world to right. I waited patiently behind them to attempt to unravel the mystery of the queue or if indeed anyone was ordering drinks at all. The barmaid glanced up and down the bar before looking to me for my order.

"Oi, I was first," barked a customer a few paces away, clearly annoyed at being overlooked despite his apparent lack of interest in ordering. I put my teeth back together as he glanced up and down the array of traditional ales before requesting a small glass to try the ale before swilling, considering and finally agreeing to order a pint. Once the barmaid had furnished him with his ale she returned to me to take my order. In the minute or so while she made my coffee, I looked around the patrons. The drinker who had stepped in before me to place his order was clearly annoyed by my presence. Hushed tones to his friend sitting beside him and sideways glances betrayed his feelings, others at the bar picked up on his mood and shifted uneasily as I waited.

I thanked the barmaid when she smiled and handed over my coffee and I retired to a table well away from the bar to sit in peace. I noticed the shoulders of the patrons sink slightly as they relaxed again and carried on their chatter. I overheard some of their conversations as I sat quietly, the conversations were of little consequence, but to them the setting, alcohol and ritual clearly was. This was their Sunday evening, their release from the working week and their time to drink uninterrupted and pass opinions to the like minded. They will talk and put right wrongs as they see them, the beer would fuel them and the revenue will gladly take their dues from the sales. They will work the week, make their money, drive the vehicles they are so proud of and again will pay their toll. When next weekend arrives again they will be back in the tavern and the cycle will repeat. As long as they continue to work they will be able to afford their lifestyle, but to what ends?

It was interesting to watch them, I could draw parallels to my own life and the cycles I drift into and the tolls I pay. The thought of a higher wage or status job and the stress it would cause me would leave me looking for a bar to spend Sunday afternoon in before emerging on Monday morning hungover and ready to take on the world. I will settle for my more modest existence, I will do what I enjoy and what is of benefit. If I am in need of expensive holidays, vehicles and the oblivion of days at the bar to numb the pain of my work, I will know I am doing something wrong.

After sketching and enjoying my coffee, I placed the cup on the collections bar and slid out unnoticed behind the patrons into the gloom of the evening.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Path is Blocked

On my wanders there are a few places that cause me concern and irritation. These are the barriers and fences erected by private woodland owners to segregate their areas from the public land and footpaths. In some ways I can understand their caution, there are people who would abuse the area in terms of fly tipping, vandalism and occupation but it does seem unnatural to barrier the woods in such a way.

Last year the news was released of a proposed sell off of public woods and forests. An image was painted of local people banding together to buy their own patch of green and pleasant land where they can watch nature and camp overnight for a few days a year. Having worked with developers in the past I remain unconvinced. I would expect these companies to begin buying up land and wait until there is a possibility of laws and planning regulations being relaxed to allow their kind of development.

Many years ago I read a book called The Making of the English Landscape by W.G. Hoskins. The book charts mans effects on the landscape and after reading it I realised just how little wild land we have left in the country and how mans influence has been slow but steady. From my point of view, selling the woodlands would allow this spread into some of the last places where nature still holds strong. At first it will be subtle, no doubt prompting comments such as "well we sold off the woods, but there has been little real effect", however I believe it is just the very beginning and gradually the fences and signs will emerge, walkers and ramblers will be limited to the official public footpaths and commerce will slowly but surely begin to nibble away at the woodland.

I am a firm believer that people should be working and living within the woodlands. The woods are an amazing natural resource where we can grow and harvest materials for crafts, forage and work with nature. I suspect such people are not likely to be able to afford the land when companies may well be looking to invest outside of banks for a better rate of return.

If you have a minute and have not done so already, I would ask you to please consider signing the petition to object to the selling off of our forests and woods.

I would also encourage you to go for a walk in the woods to see what you could begin to lose out on if this goes ahead. In a few years time you could be attempting to take the same walk after paying to park, following the fence lined public footpaths with other walkers and passing ominous white planning application notices tacked to the newly erected fences.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Beyond the Flame

The sight of a gentle flame in the darkness is always a sight that awakens the senses. From the warming camp fire to the gentle flicker of a lantern or candle, the element of fire always has a way of casting a pure kind of enchantment over its surroundings. It brings to my mind the possibility that I am sharing the same moment and energy as ancestors before me and draws my mind through time and space to bring scenes to life in the minds eye.

For the necessity of light and warmth though to the starting point for a meditation, the flame brings its elemental beauty to enhance life. I have seen its sight soothe sore eyes and tired minds before the onset of thoughts or deep sleep, I have felt its warmth drive away the cold from the skin and bring a glow to the face, hands and feet.

The dance of the flame needs no sound but is graced by the gentlest breeze, weaving and spiraling in union with the air. Living and breathing with the audience it holds enthralled. I will invite you to gaze beyond the flame, to feel the ancient nature of the element and the living energy it has brought to many though out the ages. For a while time will slow in the night, the body will relax and the mind will drink deeply of the sights of the element and find rejuvenation.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Part of the Machine

Recently my night time wanders have carried with them observations from the day before. I find that on many occasions I have no objections to such passengers and with a little peace and quiet I can begin to resolve issues. For what it is worth here has been my passenger for the last day or so.

Like many who live in this age I am often using or repairing machines. These vary wildly from the utilitarian and crude to superb, elegant and efficient machines. The detail and craftsmanship are fascinating to me, they reveal the purposes and skills of the designers and craftsman who built them. When machines are understood they provide a far better indication of the minds and motives of the makers than the promotions and images that try to make a sale.

I have often seen parallels drawn between machines and aspects of human society. From my former days of being within and working with large companies I have had the pep talk, the business leader pointing out that we are all part of the machine working within our place towards a cause, the same parallels can be drawn to other aspects of living within a "civilised" society.

If we are to compare people to components of a machine there are a few issues that stand out. Some components fit easily into the machine, they require little effort to refine and adjust them to their roll. Some require considerable work in either continual disruption to the parts around them or intensive work removing and adjusting the initial component. This results in much of the raw material being removed until it is barely recognisable from its original self. Also there are some parts that will not fit at all or will simply break under the strain of the machine.

Stepping back and looking at the wider issue, we have to look at the purpose of the machine itself. This is to undertake a task for the owner. If a better machine becomes available the original will of course be discarded or possibly at best some useful components reused. In my mind there is always the thought that no matter how well a component works, there is always the chance of being discarded.

Without questioning thought and reasoning we will only dwell on the superficial and a part within a machine will beckon.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Equality in Darkness

Sitting waiting within the foyer of the local gym, I cast my eyes around and familiarised myself with the sights. Video screens repeatedly played popular hits allowing the continual beat and basic lyrics to become a virus within the mind. Posters portrayed an image of physical perfection and assurances of health and happiness for a reasonable monthly fee and an eighteen month contract. A cool draft from the opening front doors and ineffective lobby announced the arrival of the well groomed and toned instructor. Without looking I knew he had parked his sports car in the disabled user parking bay outside the entrance as I had seen him do many times before.

I glanced though the internal screens to the gym itself, watching the users pattering along the tread mills and dragging weights around on pulleys. They reminded me of hamsters in wheels. It was a relief when my good lady emerged from the depths of the gym keen to leave.

Later in the evening I slipped the leash of civilisation and stepped out into the night. Here I could redress the infernal songs trapped in my mind with the gentle beat of my own feet on the paths and the faster clatter of claws and paws in the undergrowth from the dogs. Here I could relax for a while. Within the darkness I could pass from the judging eyes of people, here it matters little who or what you are. No boasts of status or symbols of wealth are of use. There is only the quiet and the darkness, time to think and dwell on matters that are housed deep within. When there are no deceptions, distractions or material gains to be made we can find an equality of circumstance and a value as to our real worth.