Helen Sear

From the series Spirits of a Painted Forest © Helen Sear, March 2020

Photographing Paint and Painting with Photographs

I began these pictures when France went into lockdown and access to the forests close to my home was prohibited. I have been photographing the marks painted by the foresters on trees for many years, exploring my fascination with relationships between painting, photography and our human relationships with nature. The situation of confinement due to COVID 19 has prompted a more playful approach to the idea of space and territory, surface and perspective. The painted marks, excavated from the photograph, have multiplied, escaping the fixity of their original position, activating the picture plane with the fluidity of the digital toolbox.

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By Annalisa Jackson

I trod on dead leaves. They crunched gently, crumbling to dust under my feet, fragile brown skin torn from slowly decaying veins. Underfoot, small creatures scuttled for cover from the encroaching shadow of my descending boot.

The Greeks called these flowing spirits Dryads, from the word ‘Drys’ or Oak. Though I found myself surrounded on all sides by Birch – tall white soldiers in uniforms of banded brown – I found myself experiencing a sense of power, a low thrumming on the edge of my senses, that I felt rather than heard, saw or smelled. The wind danced amongst the few remaining leaves clinging desperately to the branches that tethered them, their grip on life tenuous and fading. It moved small branches and twigs in a graceful sway, the psithurism singing against my eardrums.

These nymphs, denizens of the places where trees share community, live and die with their wooden hosts. As I brushed a passing trunk with the very softest touch of my outstretched fingertips, I felt the force of it’s life – a deep… old wisdom. One from a time before my eyes saw light, that would be here when they once again stopped doing so. Like electricity it flowed from the sensitive pads of my fingers, down through pylons of bones to my soul. I was utterly at peace.

As I stepped through this realm of dreaming I came upon its edge, and abruptly the energy flow withered and dissipated. In front I saw broken and split stumps and great, pitted, tracks of earth where tyre treads tore the earth like the mark of a predator, greedily consuming all it came upon, and I wept for this graveyard of the vibrant spirits that once resided here.  

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Time Waits For No Kitten

By Sonia Levesque

“If you go down to the woods today…” Tabby straightened her sparkly military hat, “by if, I mean, when… don’t forget, the trick is in your whiskers”. Her litter of 8 mischievous cubs were more fascinated by feathers, fish toys and grooming than her words. She contemplated giving up, but no, she had to try to prepare them, even if the task was futile.

“For those willing to see it – magic is EVERYWHERE. Butterflies, tigers, raccoons and owls know this. Humans? Well… as the least intelligent species on this planet they-“, a little bundle flew out of Snowflake and across the room. There was silence. “…fur ball.” Tabby wriggled out of her hat “why am I fretting? You’ll love the woods and the world” There was a crash. Snowglobe hissed at Zamboni who knocked over a vase. She softly concluded, “…it’s time. And time waits for no kitten.”
Snowball, the eldest of the pack, pawed off his collar, his beloved medal-of-honour dangled majestically, catching the pink rays shining through the window. He nudged it towards Tabby, she nuzzled his forehead, bittersweet purrs were shared. Tabby wanted to pull all of her little ones close and never let them go, and yet, she gently pushed him towards the catflap. Snowball meowed and made his way out. The others slowly followed his lead.

Tabby felt a puddle form in the corner of her eye as she surveyed the empty space. She rested back into her cosy-curled position and closed her eyes.

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Finding My Way Home

By Andrijana Miler

If you go to the woods today, three silver birch trees stand strong next to each other. You cannot miss them. The locals never enter the forest without an offering to the ‘Ladies of the Woods’, as they are known. I do as I was taught. I take my hand under my armpit wipe a little sweat and place my hand on to the cool white papery bark. I repeat the words I heard her say so many times, I am here; please guide me on my journey in. Above amongst the pliant and supple branches, leaves began to whisper. Welcome back; let the nettles on your right guide you, once they disappear stand still. I do as advised. New signs are nailed to few trees warning of uncleared landmines and my fear begins to grow inside me. Keep to the nettles, I repeat over and over until they vanish and then I wait. Out of nowhere something touches me at the top of my skull ever so softly and swoops in front of my face, gliding through the air in total silence. Follow me, echoes in my head. I do. Keeping my eye on the white feathers I recognize her. She has grown to a full size barn owl. She is beautiful, big and fast. Struggling to keep up I follow in exact line. And there she is waiting for me perched on the majestic oak, a place where we found each other before the war began, our home.

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Do as I Say, not as I Do

by Sally Mount

“If you go down to the woods today …”
“If I go down to the woods, what? Come on love, finish the sentence. What?”
“I dunno. It’s just that we’ve been told to stay in, and I don’t think it’s right that you should go out.“
“Don’t be daft. I’m a government minister, I can do what I like. Now, are you coming with me?”

Mind Control

By Deborah King

If you go down to the woods today, trust me, you’re grounded, she said.

Honestly, she wants me wrapped in cotton wool. It’s so stupid. Everyone else is allowed to go to the woods.

I simply don’t believe the stories about the disappearances. Those two kids probably ran away from home, probably together, even though they disappeared a week apart. Their parents have made up a story that has got the police wasting time, traipsing round the estate knocking on doors and ‘making enquiries’.

This is not the sort of place that attracts psychos and I don’t believe in the big bad wolf. People watch too much telly these days. They fill their heads with monsters and always want to find something sinister in everyday events.

Myths and legends and even fairy stories, have been used for decades, to control the masses and prevent them from straying from the “right” path. If you are naughty, Santa won’t come and if you don’t go to sleep, the tooth fairy can’t leave you money. Sin will send you to hell and trolls live under bridges. God is always watching and ghosts are souls that thirst for revenge.

It’s all designed to control us and I can’t be doing with it. There’s no such thing as the bogeyman. It’s all in the mind.

Sitting here, I can see the path in both directions and it’s so quiet, even a mouse wouldn’t be able to creep up and catch me unawares…

The Dance

By Sarah Murray

“If you go down to the woods today, keep your wits about you.”

Was that fear in her voice?

Five paces in and the world shifted. Five more and I was through the looking glass. The ground was soft with the pilgrimage of leaves and branches retreating back to the soil where years before they had burst forth, yearning for sunlight.

The foresters had left pink and orange marks of pending execution over the neutral canvas of the forest.

I approached my destination: a twisted oak draped in an elegant cloak of dark green moss. I circled around its trunk, and let my fingers tousle the tufts of moss.

I stopped.

It had been marked.

Ripping out the moss, I dug my fingernails into the bark in a feeble attempt to peel away the neon hue. Sap dripped from the open wound. No matter how much I picked and scraped the mark seemed to deepen. I tore into the bark. My fingernails bled.

I sank to the ground.

I pressed my hand onto her roots and said goodbye.

My eyes stung as I blinked through my tears. Streaks of pink and orange spewed through the shades of green and gold. I covered my eyes with my bloody hands and slowly stood up.

I began to spin once more.

This time the tree bowed, took my hand, and joined me. The neon marks of death excused themselves from their macabre task, and began to waltz with us.

Could we spin forever?

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By Deborah King

If you go down to the woods today, prepare to be overwhelmed, overawed and thoroughly transfixed by a phenomenal force; nature herself. Not red in tooth and claw, but bright and buzzing; full of optimism and regeneration.

Be still. Be open. Let the energy light your senses and absorb you. Praise the hum of bees about their business, thriving to make the most of blossom and bloom, to pollinate and fruition future foodstuffs.

Take off your shoes. Allow the soles of your feet to feel the rolling vibration of the earth beneath you. Bend down and look closely, closer still, until you can see the movement of myriads of miniature refuse collectors, clearing, composting and making good.

Imagine it all switched off. Imagine the stillness and uncomfortable silence. Imagine an outdoor power cut. The creeping realisation that the food chain is broken. Nothing to harvest, nothing to transport, no birds in the sky, no fish in the sea.

So, if you do go down to the words today, delve deeper into the magic. Observe the simplicity of the design we borrow from and have respect for the tunnelling worms, the organisation of ant colonies, the sheltering canopy of leaves and the generosity and selflessness of the bees.

Breathe deeply and immerse.

Wealth Above Woodland

By Emma Boyns

If you go down to the woods today, notice the crunch of leaves underfoot and open your ears to the tentative trill of baby birds. Make your way through arches forged from birch branches and past moss-covered tree trunks.

And when you come to the middle, the very centre of this fresh and quiet wilderness, you will find a group of campaigners, some nestled in the arms of sturdy small-leaved lime trees, some sitting among the springtime bluebells. With their tiny nylon homes pitched, they will peacefully protest the translocation of a world of wildlife, an environment of an ancient nature. They were promised a winter removal, a compromise so to speak; trees uprooted while dormant, plants in their December solstice slumber. But now the costs have increased and the timelines have shifted and the respect for nature has dissolved. Finance above flora and fauna. They are excavating an archaic yet complex eco-system with a boisterous blunder, in the heart of the season for regrowth.

If you go down to the woods tomorrow, notice the crunch of gravel underfoot and open your ears to the polluting purr of planes. Make your way through the bustling airport and past aluminium giants, and mourn the loss of those moss-covered tree trunks. Observe your heart fill with a heavy hopelessness, as you hear the haunting moans of a thousand years lost.

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