by Roselle Angwin
Recently there has been an upsurge of interest in trees. Some of this arises from research done by Suzanne Simard that gives us a picture of what is now known as the Wood Wide Web; and building on this is the amazing book by Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees. There are now a great number of tree books around (of which some of the most inspiring and comprehensive are the three in a series by Fred Hageneder).
Japan has recently dedicated the equivalent of millions of pounds to the study and promotion of Shinrin-Yoku, forest-bathing, as a therapeutic aid to humans.
I myself have been leading a course called ‘Tongues in Trees’ for about five years now. In its most recent incarnation it’s a year–long online course, beginning at the winter solstice 2018, rooted in the Celtic tree ogham alphabet/calendar.
What joy, then, a few months into delivering this course, to receive a review copy of Glennie Kindred’s newest and most comprehensive tree book to date.
Kindred is the motherlode, or ‘hub tree’, of tree lore in the UK, and many people will know her several lovely, originally hand-made and -stitched, pamphlets, as well as books, on trees, plants, our relationship to the natural world, and earth wisdom more generally, all beautifully illustrated with her own drawings.
This new book is also graced with her images, which have the blended skills of loving observation and the accuracy that comes with close looking in tandem with magical insight and sensitivity. (You can buy the book, and prints, on Kindred’s website: http://glenniekindred.co.uk/)
There is not a lot that Kindred doesn’t know about trees. From this book, it’s also clear that the vast proportion of her knowledge is from her own depth of experience and communication with the tree realm. She doesn’t study them; rather she ‘builds a bridge’ to enter tree consciousness and brings back some of their gifts. ‘[M]ore than once I have found myself standing at the edge of my conditioning,’ she states in the Preface, ‘to sense an awareness of something more … a sense of communion and communication between myself and the plants and the trees, and an absolute certainty of the interconnectedness and sentience of all life.’
Walking with Trees describes what Kindred calls the ‘Council of Thirteen’: like myself, she goes with a 13-consonant Celtic ogham alphabet based on 13 native trees. (There is much disagreement about the number of ogham trees and some disagreement about their corresponding feadha, or letter-symbols.) She and I take slightly different perspectives in that one of her 13 is the beech tree, which is a later arrival on British shores (still several thousand years ago, of course), and is not associated with the Celtic uplands where one finds the other native trees, or with their mythology. However, I don’t disagree with her choice, and it’s true that, along with the small-leaved lime and the elm, beech marks an absence in the 13-month tree calendar that Robert Graves proposes and which resonates for so many of us.
Kindred’s book is ‘an urgent appeal to be part of the human changes that the Earth so badly needs us to make … The trees teach us. We learn from them; grow and expand, regenerate and deepen, as their wisdom permeates through to our depths and helps change us from the inside.’
I’m very much in tune with her perspective, especially at a time of global deforestation, and with the introduction of 5G ‘requiring’ that vast numbers of trees that are ‘in the way’ of receiving signals be felled.
My own tree course is an attempt to focus awareness on trees – in and of themselves, but also as utterly essential components in providing oxygen, keeping the hydrological cycle going, preventing soil erosion, offering habitat, shelter and foods for many millions of species of flora and fauna, offering medicines and foods to humans, and effecting positive changes to our immune systems.
They also act as mediators on a psychic level. By introducing people to the experience of being with individual tree species and trees, I hope to shift participants’ perspectives from the anthropocentric to the ecocentric via, in this case, the arbocentric.
Then, as we heal ourselves, so we heal our relationship with the other-than-human.
To learn to cherish, I believe, in anything other than the abstract, we need to know that which we wish to cherish; we need to be familiar with its ways; we need to learn to understand and love it. It would be very clear that Kindred has a deep love of and relationship with trees even if she didn’t declare it: ‘I can honestly say I’m in love with trees. They fill me with delight and awe in equal measure. I collect their leaves, blossom and fruit for my medicine cupboard and they gift me with layer upon layer of medicine for my soul. Being in their presence nurtures me, and the more sensitive and open I become to their sentience, the more levels of interaction and communication we exchange.’
The book is carefully constructed. Kindred divides each tree chapter into the characteristics, legends and folklore, and gifts as Part 1 for each species (and including information on growing the tree, plus food, medicines, and crafts associated with it); Part 2 focuses on both the wider picture of that tree in its environment, both physical and more subtle/energetic, and also inner-world correspondences, and the tree’s place in the Wheel of the Year. She includes notes on her own personal relationship with each tree. And each has several of Kindred’s relevant delicate drawings.
This is a book you’d be proud to have on your shelves – as inspiration, for information, as a thing of beauty.
Roselle Angwin is partway through writing a second book on trees and tree lore herself, partly inspired by spending some of each year in a magical Brittany forest associated with the Brocéliande of the Grail legends, which forms the subject of a preceding (as yet unpublished) book, and partly inspired by her Tongues in Trees teaching work.