Saturday, 25 January 2020

Walking with Aunt Leaf

Aunt Leaf
Needing one, I invented her - 
The great-great-aunt dark as hickory
Called Shining-Leaf or Drifting-Cloud
Or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.
Dear aunt I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool.
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,
and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something
quicker - 
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish - and all day we'd travel.
At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back
scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;
or she'd slouch from the barn like an gray opossum;
or she's hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,
this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.
Mary Oliver

I've been walking with Aunt Leaf. We've been out a lot - sometimes she is made of leaves and sometimes wood. At other times she is blackbird or blackbird song,  deer or badger. Sometimes she is the wind, or even just a feeling. During our wanderings - I've been wondering... Why is it that I'm so unwilling to walk with anyone but Aunt Leaf, Druid (now that Daisy is too old and seldom comes further than the garden gate), and Fergus?

It's been coming to me slowly, fighting it's way through the vague fog of social conditioning and my projections on my fellow humans - when I'm walking, when I'm outside, I'm listening to The World, to The Wild.

I want to almost completely disappear and become one with the wind, the water, the birds, their songs, a tree, whatever it is that catches me.

I don't want you to have to wait for me and I don't want to hurry back from wherever I'm going, on the other side of the boundary between this world and the other. I want to be fully here, AND fully there, and I don't want to wish you would hush so that I can listen to voices that yours is drowning out. No offence intended.

It's explained beautifully by Nan Shepherd in 'The Living Mountain'.  "The presence of another person does not detract from, but enhances, the silence, if the other is the right sort of hill companion. The perfect hill companion is the one whose identity is for the time being merged in that of the mountains, as you feel your own to be. Then such speech as arises is part of a common life and cannot be alien. To 'make conversation', however, is ruinous, to speak may be superfluous. I have it from a gaunt elderly man, a 'lang tangle o'a chiel', with high cheek bones and hollow cheeks, product of a hill farm though himself a a civil servant, that when he goes on the hill with 'chatterers', he 'could see them to an ill place'. I have walked myself with brilliant young people whose talk, entertaining, witty and incessant, yet left me weary and dispirited, because the hill did not speak. This does not imply that the only good talk on a hill is about the hill. All sorts of themes may be lit up from within by contact with it, as they are by contact with another mind, and so discussion may be salted. Yet to listen is better than to speak.

The talking tribe, I find, want sensation from the mountain - not in Keats's sense. Beginners, not unnaturally, do the same - I did myself. They want the startling view, the horrid pinnacle - sips of beer and tea instead of milk. Yet often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach  nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him."

And as soon as I'd realised that this is why I'd rather have Aunt Leaf for company, I also realised that I need to share how I walk, how I engage with the land, as much as where I walk and what I see.  I have a growing belief that this is the year when co-operation must take over from competition as the paradigm in which we mostly operate: Generosity of Spirit must be normal, restoration in all areas of life our priority. If this blog is written at the instruction of 'Them' - so that we may all learn to love our Earth the better - then it must be about how that loving arises, or how relationship with place is nurtured - so I'm going to try to do that. In the mean-time I read this....

"May this new decade be remembered as the decade of the strange path, of the third way, of the broken binary, of the traversal disruption, the kairotic moment, the posthuman movement for emancipation, the gift of disorientation that opened up new places of power, and of slow limbs. May this decade bring more than just solutions, more than just a future - may it bring words we don't know yet, and temporalities we have not yet inhabited. May we be slower than speed could calculate, and swifter than the pull of the gravity of words can incarcerate. And may we be visited so thoroughly, and met in wild places so overwhelmingly, that we are left undone. Ready for composting. Ready for the impossible.
Welcome to the decade of the fugitive.”
- Bayo Akomolafe

May it be so. 

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