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.
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.
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:
“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.”
“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.
looks like a great experience!!