Rainy Hearthfire

My face is tingling in the dark, burning in the glow of the campfire. Everybody is gathering  beside the fire, with chairs or on blankets. We draw in close, into a warm unbroken circle. Faces catch shadows in the firelight, some gaze into the fire, joyful voices ring close in the air.
Updraughts whip the fire’s flames into glittering orange cinders that spiral out into the deep night air, our wishes and dreams and petitions waft up in sparkling clouds, fading off in the height of the near-dark sky.
The night stays in my memory, I remember the misty rain that sprinkled around us. My head and back, places untouched by the drying fire’s heat, are drenched in the light summer-rain. Around me sit friends, with drums and guitars, flutes and voice. People dance a circle dance, close to the fire, edging and following the glowing circle of firelight. Somebody close by is playing a Hurdy Gurdy, It’s steady rhythmic drones build a deep, earthy resonance around which percussion, pipes and chants weave, flow, wax and wane. We are a circle within a circle with no beginning and never-ending, the chant hangs, spinning gently in my memory.
The memory now is so faded that I don’t recall who I was with, who sat beside me, who opposite. Mainly, I remember is the roaring fire, music, dancing, chanting, the heat and the rain. That we were there together, celebrating  harvest in the ancient act of community. We are the old people, we are the new people, we are the same people, stronger than before.

By Jean Dark 2013
Printed in Earth Pathways Diary 28th September 2015

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Sequoias Resurrected

Muffled up and walking in the park, that bright harshly cold midwinter morning I was horrified  to see what had happened to the Sequoias.
I’d identified three Sequoias, or Redwood trees,  in my local park a while back. I’d recognised them by their yew-like needles, their tall regular ovoid profile and red spongy bark, and I checked them out,  spoke to them, whenever I passed through the park. But the needles of the Sequoias that winter morning had turned an  awful lurid orange, the colour of the underside of a slug, or the nasty neon of cheap orange squash. It was as if they were shedding their needle leaves, yet as far as I knew Sequoias – Coast Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens)  and Giant Redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum)  –  were all evergreen.  I made a concerted effort to call on the Sequoias every few weeks over the rest of the winter and watched in dismay as the trees seemed to wither away and die.

Dawn Redwood in Cherry Hinton Hall Park

Dawn Redwood in Cherry Hinton Hall Park

I thought and read about Coast and Giant Redwoods a  lot for a few months, learning that Sequoias are the largest, tallest and oldest trees on the planet, there is fossil evidence going back 5 million years.  And although native to north west coast  USA, since the 1860s they have  become quite popular transplants in parks and botanic gardens across Europe, indeed Redwoods seem to grow larger, faster  and stronger in European soil than in their native habitat. In the website Redwood World (http://www.redwoodworld.co.uk/) I found an invaluable information resource and exchange, with a county by county list of redwoods in the UK,  there was no mention of Redwoods  in  my local park, only trees in the University Botanic garden and newly planted saplings in private gardens.
Although I thoroughly researched Redwoods it wasn’t clear to me why they appeared to be dying, there seemed no evidence of insect infestation and our local park has no large animals, like deer or cattle, to eat the trees, I began to assume environmental failure.
In googling image searches I tried to distinguish the two species and identify which species  was  dying in my local park. My local specimens were most like the Coast Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens), red burnished bark glowing in bright spring leaved green, growing tall, straight and wild in endless sun dappled groves on the internet. I was pretty sure  my park Redwoods were not Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) which seem to exist primarily in freak-of-nature type photographs – tiny human standing by stupidly enormous  tree, or  a cabin made from a single hollowed out log , or tunnelled through for a road, I decided that all those implausibly-giant-tree photographs on the web  are either CGI or Giant Redwoods. My redwoods although clearly mature were still small enough  to encircle with my arms, small enough to hug.
Then, one solitary park-walk in mid-April  I noticed the Sequoias gleaming with that tentative nearly-bursting  leaf-bud mild- halo of green, just like the park’s oaks, ashes and conker trees –  it looked to me like the Redwoods were miraculously coming back to life. Sequoias resurrected. I spent quite a while with one of the trees, noticing new growth, leaf shapes, patterns and sizes, and then I rushed home, giddy to google “deciduous sequoia”.
That was how I encountered the third member of the Sequoia family – the  Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostrobides), a tree believed to be long extinct, an ancestor to Coast and Giant species , known  only as fossils. Then last century  a stand of deciduous Sequoias were  discovered in China, it took until 1946 for the connection between the  Chinese  trees and the fossils to be made. To prevent final extinction seeds were gathered in 1948 and distributed to universities, research facilities and botanic gardens around the globe.
The Dawn Sequoia  is characterised by its deciduous nature and the leaflets occurring in opposite pairs on the stem, apart from this, for a lay person,  there really is nothing  to distinguish the Dawn from the Giant or Coast Redwood. The outline of the Dawn and Coast  are almost identical  and they all bear the distinctive bright spongy red bark.
All three trees in my local park are mature enough to produce cones  and to have reached  their current size they  must have come from the earliest batches of seed distributed in 1948. I have contacted the Cambridge Botanic Gardens and Redwood World website to see their thoughts, and it will be interesting to see if I can discover the story of these three rare trees and how  they came to be planted here, in a suburban Cambridge park.

Dawn Redwoods at Cherry Hinton Hall

Gaunt’s House Labyrinth 2012

In December 2012 I took this series of photographs of the stone-laid labyrinth at Gaunt’s House in Dorset.

The Labyrinth at Gaunt’s House is a classic seven-circuit labyrinth in turf and brick, laid out in the private grounds of a Dorset Retreat Centre. It has been used for meditational and spiritual purposes by visitors to the house since it’s construction around the turn of the millennium.

In December 2012 I was staying at Gaunt’s House for a fortnight volunteering. We were painting and decorating a cottage on the grounds, in exchange for bed and board. READ MORE

Gaunt's Labyrinth 2012

Gaunt's Labyrinth 2012

View more photographs HERE

This Week in Earth Pathways…

Vision of a Sacred Garden

 Back in February 2011 at a Pagan conference in Chester I had the good fortune to take part in a guided pathworking lead by Glennie Kindred, the author of the pagan primer “The Earth’s Cycle of Celebration” and part of the Moonshares Collective who annually produce the Earth Pathway Diary – a pagan “network and resource for Earth lovers, environmentalists, artists, writers and activists”.

On that winter afternoon in the dimly-lit hall Glennie Kindred’s soft calming voice and her drumming drew us deep into ourselves, where she encouraged us to discover and visualise our deep wishes and hopes. Some way in, I found myself immersed in green light, flickering around me like sunlight through pale fresh leaves, I drifted amongst branches creaking in the breeze, I saw and ran in a meadow, danced by a fire, lay back in long grass, gazing at ripe red fruits growing overhead. When I surfaced, still gleaming from my reverie I was handed a bowl of green slips of paper cut into leaf-shapes. I chose a leaf that looked to me like an apple tree leaf and wrote that I had dreamed of a green and magical place, a Sacred Garden to steward.

At the time I lived in a ground floor flat in a 1960s council block. Although it was a comfortable and compact apartment, it was also very square, plain and functional, a blank white box. The strip of garden was a lawn visible from the bedroom window, municipalised by default into an unexciting communal greensward. A twisty shady garden hidden away amongst thickets, like I had envisioned, seemed like a world away…read more