The ‘success’ of a plan to transform a landscape is also about the people who feel enriched in the company of trees; and gather, over time, a deep sense of empathy for the natural world that’s an integral part of their home.
The word HOPE stretches around the rust-red bark of a towering Scot’s pine, writ large over the comings and goings of the families who pass by.
Within line of sight, there’s another word: RISING frames the Eyrie stage, where music, dancing and poetry breed lightness of heart, friendships, and deep conversations.
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These two words completed a Haiku written for Timber Festival, 2019, placed on seven trees with orange cloth revealing words using the trees’ bark as text.
The haiku brought poetry and trees together, tapping into the story of the National Forest while offering something to trigger reflection and become one of the many sparks for conversations that this festival kindles.
FROM DEEP ROOTS
LIGHT AND LIFE
THE PEACE OF TREES
We came to Timber in 2018, and became instant fans. I remember, on that sunniest of weekends, lying down on soft grass among birch trees, gazing through a ceiling of shifting leaves.
The sound of music drifting from a nearby stage blended with children’s laughter and the song of birds.
It felt like the perfect place to be, and it’s the kind of festival I’d dreamed of: a series of intimate spaces among trees, with something different happening in each one, and the time between events rich with chance meetings, the forming of friendships, and conversations inspired by the stories and opinions shared both on and off stage.
In the 2019 haiku, the word HOME nestled just beyond the young birch grove in the Shivelight area, and THE PEACE OF TREES found expression on an old oak, in the Elemental area.
During the weekend we guided walks that threaded through the site, following the haiku. Along the way we shared poetry, and conversations ranged from trees and interwoven ecosystems to wellbeing and climate.
We pondered the crises we face, and how a positive future could be shaped; and as a group we agreed that progress now needs to be driven by empathy and inclusivity, where equity is extended not only to all human beings, but also to all the species we share the living planet with. Covid-19 was not on our radar then, but had it been, this sense would not have been any less powerful.
In preparation for this piece we’d visited the Feanedock site with Simon Greenhouse, Woodland Officer for the National Forest Company, and Timber Festival Coordinator, Jo Maker, and spent hours exploring on our own as we searched for seven ideal trees and measured them carefully.
Our stroll with Simon and Jo gave us a chance to find out more about the area’s clay and coal industries that once thrived but were abandoned, leaving unemployment and a depleted landscape; and how the realisation of a vision to plant a forest has transformed the place for people and for animals.
Without the festival, Feanedock felt different, but, you know what, not really that different. What dominates is the trees - the heart of both the forest and the festival. When you’re here, you’re a visitor in the residence of birds, just passing through.
That sensation may be one reason why the festival ends up being so tidy, with an almost complete lack of litter: it just doesn’t feel right to trash someone else’s home.
Back in the early 1990s, as the photographer documenting the earliest stages of tree planting, Rob witnessed the beginnings of the National Forest.
At the time, he was teased by friends about the ‘forest of twigs’: a joke, yes, but throw-away comments like this reveal the kind of scepticism that too often creeps in to undermine visions for change and discredit the commitment and patience of changemakers. But thanks to this commitment, tiny saplings have become trees and the trees have formed a forest, which now defines this place.
So many local residents we spoke to during the festival echoed the same view: thirty years ago, in the face of loss and the absence of hope for a future, they couldn’t see a reason to stay in this area.
Now, they see no reason to leave. They love this place for its trees, its wildlife, for the peace and calm it offers, for learning, for socialising. It may not be articulated, but running through all these stories is a sense of connection with the natural world rather than a feeling of being set apart from it; and with this, comes a sense of feeling at home, and feeling content.
This renewal of home - for people and for animals - is a cause for the continued rising of hope, and a reason to hold on to optimism. This forest is a metaphor, and an example. There can be vision, and faith, and a core team of committed people; then there needs to be money; and then action.
It also shows that the growth of trees is not the only measure of success. Look at this place - and feel it, particularly during a festival when it’s alive with music and the energy of conversations that go on long into the night, overtaken only by dancing or sleep.
The ‘success’ of a plan to transform a landscape is also about the people who feel enriched in the company of trees; and gather, over time, a deep sense of empathy for the natural world that’s an integral part of their home. The festival is an artful way to ensure that conversations and friendships are seeded and that they continue way, way beyond a single weekend.
One young woman in her late 20s told us that she sees her generation as the ‘golden children’: to have grown up in this area, among so many trees, feels like a privilege and is a continuing source of joy. There’s a sense now that the trees have an inalienable right to be here, and to flourish.
Thinking about this was in part the trigger for the film about Earth Law that we were planning to share at the festival this year.
If Covid-19 hadn’t arrived, we’d have been spending the spring filming with Dr Helen Dancer, a lecturer in Law at Sussex University, who invited us to work alongside her and bring art into discussions she’s convinced need to happen as we rethink our relationship with the natural world.
Dr Dancer is committed to exploring this further, and in the context of forests says: “A healthy future for forests, ecologically, culturally and legally, lies in our ability to foster human-forest relationships.
What happens if we take an eco-centric, rather than a human-centric, point of view? Moving away from a view of nature as service-provider, we could ask instead: what do forests need? And what would a healthy system look like?”
Next year, we hope, we’ll have a chance to delve into these and other questions through a poetic and provocative film - and also in the beer tents, or on the grassy bank above the Common, as we watch the sun go down and get ready for a night of dancing.
Harriet Fraser and Rob Fraser are artist researchers who collaborate as somewhere-nowhere. Facebook: somewherenowhereCumbria; Twitter: @butnorain; Instagram: somewhere_now.here.
Andrew Weatherall works at the National School of Forestry, University of Cumbria. Jo Maker is the Timber Festival coordinator, The National Forest Company. They are together the guest editors of this Special Collection in The Ecologist. To make a donation to support the next Timber festival, visit JustGiving.