Batheaston Tree Vigils

by | Jun 27, 2020 | 0 comments

Batheaston Tree Vigils

Vigil – a devotional watching, Vigil comes from the Latin word for “awake,” and all its meanings include the idea of watchfulness

We started the first Walking Forest Vigil in December 2018 inviting a small group, predominantly women, to gather with us each year in the company of the last standing Suffragette Tree in Batheaston. The tree stands in the garden of former midwife Eileen Paddock and her husband Keith. We have begun to realise that this annual vigil alongside the majestic ancient pine tree and the re-telling of its story brings comfort, courage and inspiration keeping the beating heart of Walking Forest warm for another year.

The Vigils coincide with the darkest time of the year, the winter solstice when the new year begins and the light begins to return.

We gather in the afternoon and witness day turn to night as we reflect on our own journey over the year, harvest our learning and create space in the dark to let go of what no longer serves us from the past year as we call in our intention and resolve for the year to come.

Our vigil honours and celebrates the life and work of past and current women in the struggle for ecological and social justice around the world.

Vigil activities have included:

  • Reflective solo time in the garden with the tree
  • Collective Seed saving from the pine cones of the tree
  • Sharing food together
  • Re-telling of the Batheaston Arboretum story
  • Sharing of what has happened during the year including the words and actions of others
  • Reflection – what can this tree teach us about the past, present, future?

Every year during the Vigil we gather round a fire and everybody present is invited to bring and share something that the vigil inspires or calls to mind; a song, poem, piece of writing, drawing, objects or a personal reflection.

We are grateful for the generosity and spirit of Eileen and Keith who take care of the tree and welcome us to their home. If you would like to donate some money to help with the upkeep of this magnificent and important tree please email us.

Vigil during a Global Pandemic

In 2020, we gathered by trees in our own neighbourhoods or gardens and spent time as the darkness fell to be with this tree alongside Eileen with Rose’s tree in Batheaston.  At the start of the vigil Judith Knight our collaborator and friend who lives in Batheaston delivered a gift by hand from us to Eileen and the tree which Eileen placed by the roots of this giant tree.

I chose a Turkey Oak planted in my local park – Phear Park which I love and visit often, throughout the year. The tree is over 200 years old, a vast trunk, an expansive skirt with flexible branches tipping down close to the ground. The tree flexes in the wind and I spend time leaning into the sweeping branches – always surprised by her strength and also the give, yielding but also pushing back against me – using my forehead, my chest, my arms. I spend a lot of time playing with the bounce, the wind, the tree and me.

We connect by conference call and warmly remembered our gatherings together of the past and shared different connections to Rose/Eileen’s remarkable tree in Batheaston – the last standing tree from the Suffragette Arboretum , our local trees, to Walking Forest and the wider stories of female activism. We shared stories, images, reflections sitting in the twilight in our own homes.

Shelley read this passage about trees in Winter:

Around us the deciduous trees have let most of their leaves go and have slowed their growth, responding to the changes in weather and day length.  As anywhere in the natural world, nothing is wasted; so the nutrients from the leaves are welcomed back by the fungi and other living things in the soil and returned to the tree as well as shared.  And whilst little is known about what is happening during winter underground, it is believed that the roots also take a rest.

It remains something of a mystery as to how trees calculate the timing of this dormant phase, but what is certain is that they measure how many hours of light and dark they receive in a 24 hour period.  There is new talk of the possibility of trees counting, having memory and ‘seeing’ through an extraordinary set of minute sensors in their bark, as winter shortens the days and their needs change. 

This period of quiet in their year is also kick started by the moment they become ‘full’, having stored their sugars in bark and roots there is no more space to put any extra food, so it’s time to rest.  If a deciduous tree is overfull, there’s always the possibility of a freeze cracking the fluid lines and damaging the tree, and letting go of their handsome head of leaves means they are less likely to be brought down in a winter storm too.

But in a conifer such as the Suffragette Pine tree, there is no such issue with sub zero temperatures because they have a form of antifreeze in the pine needles which are also covered in a warming wax.  They still do shed their needles – in order to get rid of waste materials, and a pine might look sparse in winter, but they continue to photosynthesise throughout the year, so Roses tree will grow, albeit more slowly, through winter, towards a magnificent burst of cone-making activity in Spring.

“If we surrendered to Earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.”

Rilke, Book of Hours

Image 3 Eileen Paddock Midwife of the Tree
Image 5 Vigil Fire

These words amongst others were read out by the Vigil fire, Dec 2019:

Dear Walking Forest Folk

I would love to join you in person around a fire but sadly I won’t be able to make it, so here are some words to speak into the smoke and darkness of December…

The fragile dry seed remains in her beautiful box, waiting for her human accomplices to pick her out and place her into the damp soil of these wetlands. Her accomplices have not yet decided where this being, which will live so many more harvests and seasons than them, should spend her life. We thought that it would be better to think long and hard to find a perfect space for such a special daughter.

Every square inch of these lands means something to us, these 4000 acres of chequerboard forest, fields and marshes were due to be sucked dry and destroyed to make way for a new international airport for the city of Nantes on the western edge of Europe. Thanks to disobedient bodies – of farmers, activists, local villagers and artists – infused with the spirit of the suffragettes, some occupying the site with their lives and farms, other sabotaging the infrastructure builders; others resisting the police attempts to evict us; the airport was cancelled in 2018.

The question for the daughter is, would she rather be planted in the forest that would have been one of the two runways, or there beside our vegetable garden that would have been the border controls, with their beeping metal detectors and a cop checking you out whilst scrolling through a list of the clandestine. Or would she like to be planted looking down onto the ponds where the crested newts collect the leaves of the aquatic plants to wrap and camouflage their eggs with which was planned to be the carparks. Perhaps she would love the spot next to our communal kitchen which would have been the where the duty free shop with its sickly smell of perfume could have been. Or maybe the perfect place is opposite the illegal lighthouse constructed by a ragged band of ship builders, artists, homeless kids, activists and anarchitects, where they wanted to build the control tower.

This winter we will decide, and the dry seed will find its wetness, its aliveness again…

Love and rage as always

John Jordan, on La Zad, in France.

“Yesterday’s gathering around Rose Lamartine Yate’s great pine tree was a delight and inspiration. I felt so honoured to be there with you all and with the wonderful tree. It was very special. I appreciate so many things about the afternoon – the welcome with delicious cakes, connecting with the other women, warmth of the fire and the sharing of stories, time for the imagination, for reflection and being with the tree, and sitting with the ‘crepuscule’ – entering the dark together.”
– Annabelle MacFadyen, Dec 2019

Image 1 The Last Standing Suffragette Tree
Image 2 Sap