Getting to know the trees


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Posted on February 23, 2016


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It is beginning. We both felt it, but didn't talk about it until after we had come out of the valley. We walked back from the Langstrath Birch long after the sun had set and the moon had sunk below the horizon, picking our way along the stony footpath by the light of our head torches.

Reflecting on our day over a beer in the Scafell Hotel bar, after Rob had squeezed the bog-mud out of his socks, we each revealed that we had walked up to the tree and laid our hands on it as a first greeting. And we had both felt some kind of a surge - a relationship forming. Familiarity building.

This particular tree is one we have chosen for The Long View – a project that involves conversations and meetings with seven remarkably ordinary trees in extraordinary locations over a period of nearly two years. The Long View has been five years in the planning and now that it is finally underway, it is beginning to have an effect on us. Projects are like that – you do the planning and make something happen, but you cannot predict what will happen to you as a consequence.

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Getting to know a tree or a patch of land is not an unusual thing. It happens in the garden, on a walk from home, on the way to work. But there is something slightly different going on here. These seven trees that we have chosen as part of The Long View have become subjects of our intense attention.

With repeated visits we are noticing their individual postures. The noises they make in different weathers, from whispers to roars (and sometimes silence) – and the sounds of the land around them. We have noticed colour changes in their bark under cover of cloud, after rain and in sun, which brings out a particular beauty in the paper-white trunk of the Langstrath Birch, turning it to a sheer pearl dappled with lichen grey-greens and orange. We have seen the trees shut down for winter, branches bare, and we have sat with them beneath their full summer canopies.

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With each visit there are expectations and anticipations, feelings of familiarity or even concern, pleasure, frustration, surprise. And often, wonder. While it’s a bit of a one-way thing (the trees are there despite us and oblivious to us – we are there because of them, and deeply curious about them), there’s a relationship building.

But it's not only about the trees. We’re also getting more and more familiar with the land around each tree, the fells and rivers around them, and the many other trees that share the land with them. Each journey and experience is always and only happening because of our decision to go and meet the individual trees. Again and again. We have found ourselves in a slow meditative process of visiting and revisiting, of tracing and retracing steps as the days' light lengthens and the earth's till shifts.

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Our motto at somewhere-nowhere is ‘journey, pause, reflect, respond, connect’ and this is certainly happening with The Long View. Each journey inevitably involves pausing. A lot. This is essential for knowing a place and offers up the headspace to consider questions we know we have – how is the land managed, how old is the tree, which birds are here – as well as questions that come unexpectedly - how long can a rowan exist when it grows out of a rock, how long has that pair of peregrines lived in that crag, is sitting with my back against this tree really altering the way my breath feels?

Our process also involves gathering and cataloguing. We are collecting images, thoughts, observations and ideas as well as the physical stuff of fallen leaves bark and seeds, which are all becoming part of the same mixing pot.

We are seeing patterns emerge: in the words that are arising, including the fine-tuning of short wordscapes for Twitter; in the enjoyment we get from watching the light and the weather change; in the spots we place ourselves in when we are with the trees; and in selecting view points for photographs, so that they can be repeated throughout the year.

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Our computer files are beginning to stack up and our notebooks are looking busy. The next couple of months will be a time of refinement as we continue to collect and create, and refine our plans for filming. And in the year ahead, we’re happy to say, we will be continuing to visit the trees, meet ecologists and tree experts, and lead walks to the trees. If you’d like to join us at the trees, or add your own memories of trees that are special to you, or simply to find out more, visit the website: thelongview.today.

Now, the sun is shining, and the sky is set to stay clear ... we're off to one of the trees to see what it looks and feels like beneath the full moon.

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