Friday, July 15, 2022

Margins of leaf and life

We met for this session at Wootton Bridge car park, which isn't on the Isle of Wight, but is in fact near Wilverley Plain and the village of Sway. The summer sunshine was beating down fiercely, so it was a very welcome location that we picked a few minutes walk away, still beside the stream, under some large trees away from the picnickers and children and dogs enjoying the shallow 'beach' near the car park.

We started with a reading about the function of leaves, how they are the 'factories' of the tree producing the food they need to survive and grow. Hearing about how the liquid nutrients are drawn up from the roots into the leaves where the power of sunlight (and chlorophyll) turns them into food for the tree, Alistair penned this poem.

Sky and dirt

Here it hums,
the green machinery of life
left running for a billion years
uninterrupted and un-stilled;
the silent services fulfilled, unmetered
and delivered free by every leaf
on every tree and every green grass blade.
This grace of God displayed,
this genius of creative flair,
fuelled with photons fed on air,
an interchange of sky and dirt,
a marriage made in heaven and earth,
and mediated through a tree.
May You, in turn,
make something
from me.

Time for contemplation

We inspected some leaves, to look at the differences in leaf margins that can be found in just the small area we were in. If you want to know more about the botanical terms, this is a lovely webpage to read. Leaf Margins

It is thought that as the majority of tropical trees have leaves that have smooth edges, due to the need to retain moisture (greater surface area would lead to higher transpiration rate and dehydration in toothed/wavy margin leaves), that trees adapted as they moved to colder climates. Jagged margins allow for a greater rate of photosynthesis (for the same reason, a greater surface area) so the tree can stock up on food more quickly as Spring arrives in a habitat with a short growing season (cooler temperatures).

The same species of tree can also develop differently-shaped leaves according to their geographical location, does this somehow also reflect how we respond differently according to our environment? Scientists can examine fossil records and use leaf margin patterns to learn about temperatures on earth many years ago, this is also used in climate change research.

The challenge set was to spend some time finding a leaf that had margins that somehow represented us, whether in terms of what we project to the world, or how we respond spiritually to the 'food' we receive and 'climate' we are currently in. The inspiration for this was a personal meditation that God took me on, showing me how, as much as I wished my life to have nice smooth edges, and be a symmetrical and simple 'shape', this was not my reality - and actually the result was a life that, designed by God, could be so much more interesting and more fruitful than ever I imagined.

We all came back to share a variety of different leaves, including some unexpected mint leaves, and a kingfisher spotting!

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Hidden Histories - June Forest Church

For the June Forest church we met at Moonhills Car Park on Moonhills Plain, part of the Beaulieu Heath. 

Heath is a human managed habitat - the original landscape here was lightly wooded oak, pine, holly etc on the very variable sandy/clay/gravelly soil of the New Forest.

Coming from the shade and shelter of the forest into the open expanse of the heath is a significant change in the way the landscape, looks, feels and sounds. In this session we considered the landscape before the Bronze age clearances. Underneath the burial mounds of the ancient first settlers lie the soils of Bronze Age times, preserving - through tiny pollen grains - the stories of a different landscape and how it changed through time.

This session is all about pollen and you can hear more and see more by following this link to the session information and sound track.   

Map showing Moonhills plain between Exbury Rd and Rollestone Rd. The tumuli we visited are about 100m North East of the car park.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The stones will cry out

A response to Mike and Julie's Forest Church session on "The Stones will cry out". This was written on the slopes of Ashley Walk where the New Forest's sands and gravels preserve the ancient coasts and rivers from a time long gone. Carved into those vast accumulations of sediments from a warmer clime, the long, low valley slopes are remnants from the Tundra cold, the summer melt of permafrost sliding sheets of slushy gravel into seasonal meltwater streams. The stones remember it all.


Stone flowers


In another frame of time

Where centuries are but a blinking of an eye

These landscapes wrinkle, curve

Grow deeper valleys 

And more elongated streams.


The stones awake from million-year long sleeps,

They chatter, flow, grow round or shatter with

The energies of water and

The agencies of ice.


Some are buried deep again

Until the epochs change and landscapes rearrange.

Others bleed their substance to the soil and by the toil 

Of human hands coax food

from lands.


And we, imbued,

By essence of the stone, grow bone

And feather it with flesh.


The body we conceive as ours

Is but the bud and bloom 

Of stone-grown flowers.




Alistair McNaught April 2022


Sunday, January 16, 2022

Strength from weakness

 Strength from weakness

January Forest Church 2020

The theme for this session was "Exploring winter's beauty and strength with twigs and branches".
Winter seems to be a barren season for a tree. We too have barren seasons. We started with a short reflection Alistair had written for the session:
View up through overarching winter branches


Twig and Leaf

It's getting darker; colder.
The days grow short.

You struggle 
to photosynthesise,
struggle to be fruitful.

You are weary from insects,
ragged from storms.

You have one job to do,
one thing you are good at
and been faithful to pursue.

But now,
unfathomable changes far beyond you
undermine you.

So you surrender.
One by one you drop the leaves,
proud leaves, once beautiful,
marvellous leaves creating sugar
from the alchemy
of light and air.

But that time has long since gone
and so
you let it go.

Now you are naked, exposed, unfruitful.
Birds that once nested
in the shelter of your boughs
won't even roost
in the bleakness
of your nakedness.

You who have given so much for so long
have nothing left to give.

But you are twig,
connected into branch and bough
and trunk and root and tree.

Slow as the creeping winter stars,
sap stirs and nutrients from another world,
from deeper places than you know
seep into cells.
Buds swell,
bark strains.
The slow growth miracle 
begins again.  

Types of winter twigs and buds

David Chappell  had kindly brought a selection of twigs illustrating the way twigs and buds arrange - opposite, alternate and - like the oak - spiral. He also had examples of winterflowering twigs and a range of dogwoods whose colours brighten winter hedgerows even when leaves and flowers are absent.

The activity

 The options included 
  • walking around the garden at Fairwinds simply spending time noticing twigs and buds close up, a luxury we rarely afford ourselves,
  • collecting twigs and weaving the thin flimsy structures into strong and flexible mats,
  • touching and handling twigs from the large twig based mammal shelter by the compost heaps.
As the darkness came down there was something beautiful about hearing the murmer of voices in the garden against the background call of the rooks and the evening song of the blackbirds. We had benches arranged around the firebasket and many people shared their thoughts and experiences from the session. I loved listening to people speaking by firelight, recounting the different things they'd taken from their time of reflection. 
People sitting round a small fire basket in front of a treehouse, surrounded by winter shrubs. 
We ended up with refreshments and Terry's delicious baking (Tahini blondies and Chocolate brownies) on the decking / conservatory - all doors and windows open to minimise Covid! The younger people among us divided their attention between the cakes, the treehouse and the trampoline!
Really looking forward to the last of the Fairwinds-based winter sessions which Diana will be leading. More details to follow!