South Devon Camp
From 19-21 March 2021 a group of 15 women gathered to join us and take part in Walking Forest’s first camp online for South Devon. Here three participants, Rosa, Annie and Judy share their experience of the camp. The Camp forms part of Walking Forest’s Season For Change commission leading up to COP26 in Glasgow. For more info about Walking Forest and upcoming activity see www.walkingforest.co.uk
Imagine a world in which we took our time: noticing the trees, birds and plants, listening to one another’s stories, and being playful and tender in caring for one another. Our South Devon Walking Forest weekend gave us a glimpse of what our place in that world might look like, with women ‘s leadership: sharing ideas and skills, inspired by those who have walked before us, talking, learning and practicing how to make change happen. We had all responded to an open invitation from four creative women, through various routes and touching all our hopes for creativity and new connections.
In our virtual camp (zoom plus our own individual walks and imaginings), we wove local threads into those from elsewhere in the UK and world. South Devon has its particular history of resistance and inspiration: here is the birth place of the Transition Town movement, and a deeply rooted history of liberalism and respect for the natural world of beauty in the oceans and rivers that surround and water our land. We heard about local Suffragettes and Suffragists, about growing Moor Trees, and about how the right leadership and legislation can move the world forwards to a sustainable future, nationally and internationally. We were inspired by the art project of Gaby Solly called We Breathe Trees – which explores the interplay of breath, trees, air pollution and the covid-19 pandemic and her work with Culture Declare Emergency. We found out how to connect with the global Stop Ecocide movement, and the UK Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, initially sponsored in parliament by 4 women and 2 men, and rapidly growing in energy and reach.
Three of us who met at the weekend – Rosa, Annie and Judy -share our different reflections here.
Rosa: Gathering with women in an intentional space can be a powerful and galvanising force, and the Walking Forest South Devon camp was no exception. The metaphor of the forest network – roots and mycelium spreading outwards to share energy and ideas – wrapped around the whole weekend, offering much opportunity for nourishment and cross-pollination that will come to bear some interesting fruits in our creative work and activism. The Walking Forest team created a comfortable, welcome space and wove a wonderful connection between us, even with the constraints of an online gathering. We were offered time for deep listening, reflection and conversation – sometimes while our hands were busy planting seeds or sewing together. There was something very grounding about simply listening in to the gentle back and forth of easy and spacious chatter, the generous offering of stories that knit us together across generations in a web of shared experiences.
One of the most powerful aspects of the camp for me was to begin the weekend with a wonderful presentation on the history of the Suffrage movement in the area, planting us from the outset in the fertile soil of activism in our own corner of the world. It was deeply moving to see the faces of local Suffragists and Suffragettes, to hear their stories and to map their activity on our doorstep. I felt their presence throughout the rest of the weekend, as if supporting us, urging us on and holding us together in our common purpose. The many parallels between the suffrage movement and the climate movement are profound. The bravery, tenacity and unapologetic daring to claim that women are equal to men is reflected in modern times with daring to claim that the rights of nature are equal to those of humans, as was also explored in the presentation on the Stop Ecocide campaign. It inspired hope, courage and relief to spend a weekend with women who share the same profound kinship with trees, wildlife and earth, as well as a driving passion to protect it.
Annie: As a psychologist, playback theatre performer, grandmother, I love it when we find ways to weave together everyone’s different threads of understanding about social justice, unhappiness and joy, fairness and play, health and growth, into new ways of changing the world. We urgently need social and psychological change to tackle the climate and ecological emergency. A world in which we burn less carbon and stop pillaging the earth is entirely possible and will bring about benefits that mean we all will be happier and healthier – cleaner air, less pressures to compete and dominate others, and less accumulation of all the stuff that stops us having fun. Bringing that new world to life needs strong feminine energies, leadership and care. Our human species is much more altruistic than western science has allowed us to realise. We have goodness and kindness in our life blood. As women, we know that care and relationships come first, before anything can grow, build or heal. Our weekend showed us how sharing our stories, dreams and actions is a profound part of cherishing our world. The surviving pine tree, planted near Bath, over a hundred years ago by Rose Lamartine Yates, as part of the coming together of the suffragettes and suffragists, symbolized our hopes and energies. We learned about the vital necessity of political and legal changes to protect and cherish our earth for future generations. Surely stopping ecocide, and building legal protections for the environment, would be causes that our suffrage sisters would now be bravely fighting for.
Judy: The idea of Walking Forest inspired me: a fluid eco-system of interconnected beings, exchanging ideas, feeding each other with their energy, knowledge and support. Being forced online due to the COVID pandemic added further to the metaphor, with information passing through wires and the ether, linking us from across the miles. I have always felt connected to the natural world, climbing trees, picking apples and blackberries, helping with haymaking and harvest, watching fox cubs playing at dusk as a child. But growing older, I am increasingly despondent at the loss of wildlife I have experienced. It is clear that plants, trees, sea grass and phytoplankton sustain us by providing the oxygen we breathe and absorbing the carbon dioxide that we expire, capturing that essential resource to feed itself and other life forms. Walking Forest has surrounded me with a wonderful group of like-minded women who will support me in projects to link others to the natural world and stop the tide of thoughtless destruction that we currently witness, to ‘stand up for the Earth’ and influence the political system, as many of them have already admirably demonstrated.
Gifting and sharing seem fundamental: giving time, knowledge, art, seeds were all illustrated by the ceremonial gifting of Rose’s pine seeds at COP24, and the gifting of materials and seeds for the Walking Forest Camp that drew us together through planting and making over the course of the weekend. Adam Owen, a founder of Moor Trees, has been transforming Dartmoor and South Devon by planting over 100,000 native trees and woodlands. Speaking from the Dartington Nursery, he described the process of collecting the seeds from established woodland, the required cold stratification to allow germination, planting and nurturing, and the wildlife benefits of forests, the vital mitigation of climate change and benefits to human health and well-being. Adam helped us find gifted seeds hidden in our bags of dark, aromatic compost: oak, crab apple and spindle, and told us how to plant them. I hope that in a few months I will see the first shoots.
The experience of the weekend is still rippling through our own creative and activist practices. For Rosa, this is through yoga, movement and meditation – as she investigates how to use her body and her being more purposefully: exploring what it feels like to stand up for the earth, to breathe with the earth, to step forward, reach up and be seen – rooted in the ground, steadfast and unapologetic like our activist torch bearers of the past. For Judy, it is in part through sharing her own artistic practice: she described observing and recording the beech tree overlooking her front garden: smoothing soft washi paper over the surface of the bark, wrapping her to create an imprint, a memory, of her protective coat with its scars. For Annie it includes sharing women’s stories and poetry: imaging the new era we wish to be born through COP26 and beyond as if it were the culmination of a longed for and much cherished pregnancy.
We ended with a renewed sense of purpose to weave reverence for nature into all aspects of our being and felt emboldened by the other women, and our brave Suffrage sisters, to take a stand for the earth.
Rosa Hannaford, Judy Harington & Annie Mitchell. April 2021