Seed Stories

by | Jul 14, 2022 | 0 comments

by Charlotte Du Cann & the Coventry Walking Forest Anchor Women

Seed (verb)

– to cause something to exist or develop
– the beginning of a process that gradually develops and becomes stronger

Birch trees produce fruit called samara and a mature tree can release one million seeds from these fruits each year. Our beautiful Silver Lady was shedding seeds even after she was felled, some have already landed and some are still flying on papery wings, yet to settle.

Sam Black

I am wearing an apron, sitting in a caravan beneath a silver birch tree. It’s spring now and the tree is unfurling its small triangular leaves, its tops tasselled with catkins that shimmer gold in the evening light.

This is no ordinary apron, it was one made by the ‘anchor’ women of the Walking Forest project to signify they were part of a cortege that had wound through the streets of Coventry last October, its practical buff fabric embroidered with the griefs and joys from their lives. The caravan belongs to Lucy who had invited me to bear witness to a ceremony that would carry the felled tree for the last time to its resting place beneath fellow oak trees and ash in a place called Floyd’s Field. And afterwards to give a writing workshop that could ignite some of the testimonies of the women, before they dispersed like samara into the
wind.

Writing is a strange business. I was not part of this project that began a year ago in a woodland camp and ended in the field in December, but I have listened to everyone’s stories: the women who were the roots, the women who were the branches of the ‘performance action’ that had taken the ‘silver lady’ through the city. There is the action, but then there is the remembering of the action, how it gets passed on, how it affects the future of individual lives, and the collective. In a time of forgetting and fragmentation, remembering is a radical act. Remembering ourselves and the ancestors who stand behind us, our nonhuman kin. Putting our experiences in a creative form.

That’s what I told the women in the workshop. Unless there is a feedback loop, this could just be one more action, one more event, one woman keening the death of a tree. Our gatherings become trapped in a linear storyline, in the history of progress that marches onward, mechanically lurching from one crisis to another, next and then next. To break out we need to loosen our attention, slip into the nonlinear, behold our experiences as they circle and weave back and link up, create a certain shape in space and time: the sun dance a honeybee enacts to communicate with her sisters in the darkness of a hive, a rainbow dance woven around a birch maypole in May.

Writing can make that feedback loop. It can nurture connections that were made during that leafy year, and give them weight and our full attention in retrospect. We can foster an ecosystem between us that is like a forest, rather than a factory. A culture rather than the economy.

We are seed bearers; carrying promise, courage, hope.
We are nurturers; tending shoots which stretch beyond us.
We are caretakers; nourishing roots which support and branches from which flight
is taken.
We are strong, determined, confident, connected
Women. Leaders, changemakers, prophets.
Voices summoning a different future,
birthing new beginnings.
This is our time.
We are our ancestors and our children.
Mighty. The potential of acorns ready to stir…
Lying dormant in darkness.
Walking Forest was light, sunshine, water…
Cracking the husks of our hearts

Alice Khimasia

There was a circle of chairs in the Warwick Art Centre studio, and some of the anchor women and artists came and sat together there. Outside the large windows a wintry breeze blew through the bare university trees. Everyone introduced themselves with a fallen leaf they had found when out walking, or had blown into their garden.

I had brought two sprigs with me: a yew and a Scots pine. In the circle of the year, they stand either side of the winter solstice: yew, the tree of death, is the last letter of the ancient tree alphabet; pine, the tree of birth, is the first. Both are ‘female’ vowel trees that hold fast at the solstices and the equinoxes, and let the winds of change blow through: ailm, ohn, ur, eahda, iogh.

The myths embedded in this ancestral ‘clock’ instruct us on how to shift and change, how to be a nurse log and seed the new, keep in time with the rhythm of the ever-moving Earth and sun. Keep together in body and soul.

At the upcoming solstice, what are we relinquishing to the fire, I asked the women, what are we taking through?

Circle

I didn’t know a soul. We were invited to speak our name in turn and name a place of nature that meant something to us. I felt completely exposed and couldn’t do it.

Jane Clark

How do you find depth and connection in a shallow time? The courage to speak out loud, words you know and those you never knew you had inside you? It begins by creating a space where those things matter, no longer hemmed in by social demands and obligation. Where you can be among comrades who can catch you if you fall, and you catch them, where you find yourself speaking differently, among trees, about belonging on this Earth. By making a circle where there was once only a straight line.

It began in a camp held in a wood in spring.

I had no knowledge of how this small, first step was going to change my life. I have autism and ADHD and making new friends and meeting new people can be really difficult, sometimes impossible. But it was also something I really wanted.

Although I didn’t stay in the circle, I didn’t run away either.

Walking Forest helped me realise how much we are like trees. We have a mother tree that nurtures the young in the community and an underground communication network of mycelium we call the wood wide web.

The stronger we root and allow ourselves to be nurtured by those around us, the better we are at withstanding the strongest of storms, and no problem will be big enough to make us fall. We will stand, as will the strongest of trees, to see the calm after the storm.

Becky Taylor

I was last to arrive
joining this community of love and kindness
called protectors of the forest

as I was engulfed in embraces and loving chatter
I knew that though I arrived last
I was home
sharing food and knowledge

 Loraine Masiya Mponela

If anyone asked me what I wanted to be in life now I’d say, ‘an international banner maker and suffragette.’ I’d laugh and they would too, but it actually was the truth. My banner making journey started in 2018 to mark 100 years since some women had received the right to vote. However, the true immersion in the power of women and suffrage started in 2021 in Walking Forest. The gentleness, the authenticity, the creativity, and the courage filtered into every pore of my being. Its potency was overwhelming.

Amanda Haran

Walking

We laid our cheeks against her, feeling the etched lines of her bark,
Tears mingling with her dying leaves,
Grief and longing borne together.
We bore her story with and within us
Through grey urban wilderness,
Bringing what is hidden into plain sight.
The city held its breath as green shoots burst forth,
bright memories held in the places we walked, in the stories we shared,
the shadows and footprints left in our wake

Alice Khimasia

At the workshop I asked everyone to take out their notebooks. Find yourself in a place along the journey you took with the performance action from dawn to dusk on both days. Where do your feet take you in that moment? Write a flash paragraph.

Afterwards we stood in front of the tree map Shelley had drawn and everyone placed themselves along its route, from the graffiti mourning the Cubbington Pear Tree in the underpass to the joyful reunions among the fruit and vegetables of the allotments. Each person spoke from their stopping place.

Walking in the city carrying a felled tree
like a funeral procession
the tears seen on women’s faces as they lamented

At the end of the first day, the tree rested in the Cathedral ruins.

We held a vigil. It was a beautiful, clear night sky, open to the greater elements but we were held secure within the walls of this bombed-out sacred place. We sat together and shared our grief. We held the space for each other and for the tree and our grief extended out to the natural world beyond.

We walked through the streets with reverence and love. We held our tongues and used the sound of nature, bells and bird song and rustling. To give us strength we identified ourselves with a creature from the natural world. I had chosen a moth.

Loraine Masiya Mponela

By the city hall Loraine stands on a soap box:

I have a few words to share with you all.
We are here because you were there and are still there now

Loraine Masiya Mponela

We took a moment to ground ourselves, laying down our silver lady and lying by her side. The resting time would serve to nourish us and remind us that rest is a powerful tool for those of us involved in climate, racial or social justice.

Mel Smith

The tree is carried from dawn to dusk past houses and parks, shops and schools, offices, down roads and across bridges:

People sit for lunch and women carry the heavy burden. Sometimes people stand or pass by so closely that it feels as if the women and tree disappear. Do they expect the tree to move for them?

Unexpected tears burst from me once we put down the branch for the final time. I had been carrying more than the weight.

– Gemma Musgreaves

Nurse Log

For thousands of years on this island, trees were known as guardians of a knowledge of how to be in right relation with the Earth. They were our non-human ancestors and teachers. They still are, even though we live in an industrialised, separated world that thwarts that relationship. Gathering in a certain spirit, among trees, speaking for them, in praisesong and lament, remembers us as different kinds of human beings: those who have always ‘carried the fire’, the seed of life within us.

The seeds of hope, imagination and grit were planted in me. These seeds were needed to bring big dreams to life. We helped them to grow into action on a poignant journey that I will cherish forever. Alone this journey would have been impossible but together we did so much. I see the bigger picture now, of how we are related to the forest, at one with nature because we too are part of the ecosystem

Melissa Smith

I feel like each and every one of us grew, like a plant. We all nurtured and fed each other in different ways. We held each other up. The places we went to, the voices we heard, the songs we shared, became a part of me. The energy from everyone was warm like a fire, but also carried a fiery sense of determination.

We will not stop. We will not lose hope, our drive, our passions. We will use our voices, our skills, our minds, and stand tall and courageous. We will plant seeds of courage and hope wherever we go and pass on our knowledge. We will inspire and we will overcome.

Sabz Qazi

Perhaps the seed was always in me!? We all have our own strengths, our own abilities, our own views. But often in life these seeds of ours do not receive the right exposure, support, or direction.

 Sanaa Cheruvallil

The Walking Forest project was a council – a collective display of grief, a space to share that emotion openly, knowing that my comrades shared those emotions too.
They knew – they got it – they understood. I am not alone – I will forever be part of the Walking Forest Collective.

 Martina Irwin

The legacy of the suffragettes lives on with us; we are the modern suffragettes, lovingly nurturing the connections just like all existing networks that surround us.

Sherrie Edgar

That winter’s day two black pine seedlings were planted from the project’s suffragette mother tree within a small sapling grove of yew and sweet chestnut. Where there is death, there is life, that is what you learn from the Earth. But only if you share the seeds and not hoard them. Only if you create the right circumstances, the warmth and connection that will make them germinate and flourish, an ecosystem made of attention, creativity, courage, heart. Writing is one way of sharing and passing on those welcome messages, in the way a mycelium does, communicating with the roots of all beings in the territory, underground,
unseen, nourishing and exchanging, forking and fusing, an ever expanding living network. Like a walking forest.

I have spent many years trying to connect with nature in a deep way – growing up in a city, raised by ancestors of many generations of city dwellers, this was not easy for me. Feeling that connection is really painful as it means that I now hear the suffering of the natural world and not just the people and animals in it. But I don’t regret that as it feeds my activism and spurs me on, and adds to the joy that I feel when I notice the beauty of the world and the incredible power and resilience of nature in all its forms.

Heather Parker

At the end of the workshop, I set a task and invited the women to write a short piece on ‘What has the Walking Forest seeded in me’. This is what they wrote about that time. These are the seeds that are borne by the wind to you on this spring day from a silver birch, cut down in her prime by a railway line.

Our felled birch a prism of hope and possibility,
A rainbow of colour in the hidden places of the city,
Green oases, connected like mycelium,
Newfound friendship in the faces of strangers.
Together we bore ourselves home.

Alice Khimasia

Charlotte Du Cann is a writer, editor and co-director of The Dark Mountain Project. She also teaches collaborative non-fiction, and radical kinship with the other-than-human world. She has been an associate of Walking Forest since 2018.

In 1991 she left her life as a London features and fashion journalist with a one-way ticket to Mexico. After travelling for a decade, she settled on the East Anglian coast to write a sequence of books about reconnecting with the Earth. The first of these 52 Flowers That Shook My World – A Radical Return to Earth was published in 2012 by Two Ravens Press. Her latest collection After Ithaca – Journeys in Deep Time was published in May 2022 by Greenbank Books, an imprint of Sumeru Books, in association with Dark Mountain Project. To order worldwide, please visit the Dark Mountain online shop.