Voice of the forest

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESHere is Linneaus before the kids arrive. Note his horn. We wanted a horn to call the kids after they had run out to play.  My mum had an old hunting horn she used to call us in to lunch, so we borrowed it. But would Carl Linneaus, the father of botany, do such a thing? Imagine our delight when we discovered that Linneaus did in fact actually use just such a horn to call his students to botanically thrilling items. Linneaus would then also encouraged his students to call out ‘Vivat Linne!’ – Long live Linneaus! The man had a fairly high opinion of himself. He once said “God created, Linneaus brought order.”

Linneaus (aka Torgrim), met the children for our new project called ‘Skogens Stemme’ or ‘The voice of the forest’ on Hovedøya. This island is in the centre of the Oslo fjord, five minutes boat ride from the town centre and filled with history and rich nature. As he instructed them in Latin, I was hidden up a mighty Ash tree, chuckling to myself as I heard their lusty cries of ‘Vivat Linne!’

I had climbed high up in the tree, sitting on a cushion of green moss, and resting on the broad trunk with my body. Cradled and supported. Hearing the whispers of the leaves in the treetops, louder up here. For some reason I got the image of a kind of invisible blood network going from the tree and into me. And I got questions, big questions of how I come to be alive and why. Then after this immensely long time of about 20 minutes Linneaus comes over and the kids see me and they go kind of demented. You can see some of this on YouTube, filmed by Heli Aaltonen who is researching the project.

By the Ash tree

The strange thing is though Hazel (me) wakes up and says hallo from the tree, Linneaus cannot for the life of him see or hear me. He finds it extremely annoying that the children go into this fantasy world as he sees it.


Well I understand Linneaus, it is annoying. To see people who are alive and in touch with a living world which at that moment one does not believe exists. Infuriating to see their joy, their relaxation, their contentment whilst you yourself are busy talking to yourself about all the facts that you are sure you know. Pretty soon you may start to feel the world is conspiring against you. The whole world has decided to turn against you! The weather seems against you, the pavement, or the dogs, the buses and perhaps most of all the people.

Poor Linneaus, maybe it’s the medicine of the massive ego? But the enthusiasm of the kids melts him and the sight of his namesake the mighty Linden tree, with leaves shaped in the form of a heart reminds him of a fairy tale. That first day with the kids seemed like a fairy tale to me. A very chaotic fairy tale, a bit out of control at times. A fox joined us – joined the forty 9 year olds and 4 adults and he stayed with us for over an hour. He was young and clear and seemed curious about who we were. He just kept coming back, following us around.  After some time he also realized we could give him bits of sandwich.

Perhaps it was the wand made of Rowan that did it?



Dead or alive

Dead or alive is the theme and it comes up again and again as we wander from the churchyard to the Viking graves over dead tree stumps and through the whirling living forest.

Marioak 5

He who made it sells it, he who buys it doesn’t use it he who uses it doesn’t know he uses it. What is it? A coffin. A dead person in a dead tree.

They meet me Marianne North, beside an ancient oak in the graveyard. I am a botanist and artist, a contemporary of Darwin and i am here to collect all the species of tree to be found in the area. From the name of the place it was a holy grove of trees long before the church came.

I tell them I’ve met a woman here who owns almost nothing. A nun who has a tiny sack, her simple dress and scarf and who has walked here from Italy. She meets us, tells us about her hero, Francis of Assisi, and her quest to find the huge living beings he spoke about who live in the forest. I agree to help if she and the kids can help me track down all the species of tree, and on the spur of the moment, devise a competition to find the most kinds of seeds.


Frans av Asissi 233 But there is also something I confess to the kids. It’s a little strange, I couldn’t tell everyone, but this morning the oak tree spoke to me. I asked it if it was lonely, whether it had children. What contact it has with them and many other secrets it told me. We walk, they’re eager to find and learn. We go through many tests endurances and stories together.

I’ve been preparing for this project most of the summer. Charlotte (who I work with) really loved it from day one. But at the start of the project I felt dead. I could see it was all happening but not feel it, know the meaning. Was I Marianne North? But then, on the third day it came to life. I came to life. Phew! So this project has really been about death and life for me.

Feedback from the kids, spontaneous:round tree sit cu

“Lets pretend we’re ill and dress up as 6C so we can do it again tomorrow.”

“I want to do the whole walk again. Now.”

“I’ve always liked the forest but now I see its full of different trees.”

round tree

“The tree didn’t talk to me but it sang an old-fashioned song.”

“The tree said: Look after nature.”

“The tree said: Don’t cut me down.”

“Shoes are so 2012.”

“Now my feet can feel mother Nature.”

Two 11 year old boys (on different days) ran spontaneously over to a tree and hugged it.Frans av Asissi 133