Monday 10 August 2020

Sonnets in the canopy

My friend and neighbour CathyFitz [prev] is my point of contact for all things sylvan. She recently posted a link to a project designed to elicit a variety of positive outcomes from just five minutes of focused attention on a soundless film clip. It's called Imagining Woodlands Under Lockdown and was dreamed up by Jo Dacombe an artist interested in the politics, history and appreciation of landscape. Participants are requested and required to watch a single take of a vertical shot through a woodland canopy somewhere in England and while doing that jot down words as they surface from the depths of your mind. When everyone is finished, they Zoom together, share their written experience and collaborate to create a single coherent poem triggered by what everyone has seen.

Dacombe is asking punters to use only their eyes in this event; not allow the distractions of smells and sounds to de-focus the attention. In normal times,  she will do something similar in real woods and often ask for a different sensory mode to front the experience. Sit down, close your eyes and listen. When a group of humans stops gallumphing through the woods and shuts TF up, then soon enough the forest will come alive again as the native players accommodate to the heffalumps in the glade. Using your ears is key for birders: often you cannot hope to catch sight of your quarry and must rely on the diagnostic calls of each species. I hear our resident Jay Garrulus glandarius far more often than I get a view of him. Contrariwise, picking beans in a dense wall of foliage I find that feeling the weight is often handier than seeing the beans. Up on a ladder it is easy to get Father Dougal fooled about whether it's a small bean 15cm from my eyelash or something worth eating.

Imagining Woodlands is an interesting idea. You may bet your sweet bippy that everyone will bring something different to the table despite have experienced the exact same filmlet. I'm thinking that because one of the words that knocked on the doors of my perception was Rashomon [prev], Kurosawa's film which uses a lot of tracking shots of sun through leaves and which hinges on the totally different explanatory narratives that each of the protagonists develops to come out of the encounter in the woods smelling of roses. Because, this time, it's a visual exercise people are asked to think about how their poem will l👁👁k on the page.

Jim Henterly has spent 27 years working as a Fire Lookout on Desolation Peak. Paying attention to the rolling world around him. "This present moment lives on . . . to become long ago". Jim and his missus did nine seasons at co-watchers when they were newly married and raised a couple of kids in the wild outdoors on the job. Jack "Desolation Angels" Kerouak, the beat poet and novelist, shat in exactly the same woods in the 1950s. Being a fire-watcher is another, much more onerous, activity that requires focused attention. Not only to learn, and act upon, the earliest signs of smoke as evanescent differences of tone against the distant clouds; it's also about the eagles; the unpassing time; the smell of distant bear;

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