The past few weeks have been quite intense. Another flood ravaged the Calder Valley on Boxing Day -we were told that the floods in June 2012, and July 2013(!), were exceptional events, but this was worse- with unprecedented river levels, and extensive damage to homes, businesses, and historical infrastructure. Chunks of canal bank ripped away. Mudslides. And in the small Clough (a wooded side valley) that I’ve been visiting for more than forty years, another mature oak has came down.
Richard Mabey reminds us that plants have more than twenty different senses. “Entire forests are linked by an underground “wood wide web” of fungal “roots” that transport and balance nutrient flows and carry signals about disease and drought throughout the network”. (more here) The entire Clough now resembles a tree graveyard, towered over by mature Beeches, planted by our Victorian forbears. A virulent fungal infection is now spreading amongst these, and some have fallen. Pausing by the newly exposed roots of the latest casualty -the ripped cables of the ‘wood wide web’- I wondered what kind of chorus of alarm must have reverberated along the valley.
I was, no doubt, particularly attuned to the fate of that Oak, because Chris, a close friend, and fellow member of the meditation group that celebrated the seasonal festivals for five years during the late 80’s and early 90’s, died just before the Winter Solstice. After a three week hiatus, I was privileged to be able to read a passage from his 1995 thesis, on Ecology and Postmodernity, at his funeral yesterday. The event is far too ‘open’ to write about yet, of course. Suffice it to day that funerals can be powerfully life-affirming rites.
Chris was well aware that his writing took place in an extravagantly abundant living world, and was delighted to hear about the following small incident that occured when I was reading another passage some years ago. In a section entitled ‘Facing the Danger’ he talked about “the need to apprehend, to listen, to open oneself to the unhuman Other, to stop the interpreting, to feel, to identify with” and argued that ” in these encounters there is a sort of presence at work”. […] What is forgotten by cultural theory is “the void, the darkness, the concealment from which all unconcealment arises, [… ] an alterity (or otherness) […] whose nearest figures are silence, darkness, void, negativity and absolute limit”. At that point I noticed a tiny orange mite crawling across the page, neatly underlining the concluding line, which read: “ecological sensibility reminds us, above all, of the smallness of the lighted clearing in which we (all of us, even the literate human ones) come to presence.”
Bon Voyage Chris, and May the Long Time Sun Shine upon You!
Chris Drinkwater (1995) Ecology and Postmodernity, PhD Thesis, University of Leeds, pp195-6.