What can you see in a cathedral of trees?

(New work for exhibition at the Grant Bradley Gallery’s group show Walking Through the Veil, Bedminster, Bristol).

Trees and forests have long been held as places of mystical encounter. For Britons, it’s in our psyche, and we defend woodland religiously. Even if only as a place of nominally unspoilt nature, it’s a demarcated zone for a different type of relationship with the world.

Here, I’m looking at the view through a cluster of lime trees during a Oxfordshire winter that ascribes something ‘otherworldly’ to the scene. The trunks and branches are silhouetted by an emanation of light which suggests some kind of presence, some ‘pentecostal fire’ to quote Eliot (below). It’s like being on the edge of a holy place, looking down an aisle towards an altar.

What do darkness and light say about concealment and revelation? Does one include you and the other exclude you? Is there a breeze where you’re standing? I’m interested in the perception of liminality – being on a threshold of transformation because a physical encounter becomes a metaphysical one. Feel free to post a comment about my work, and do visit the exhibition.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant.

T.S. Eliot, from Part I of ‘Little Gidding’.

Header image: Narthex I – IV, 2011, by Sheona Beaumont.

2 thoughts on “What can you see in a cathedral of trees?”

    1. Thanks Ben. Not been out at night – I’d love to reclaim that sense of the un-nerving mystery, like Narnia or Rowling’s Forbidden Forest. But in less romantic reality, our nearby city woods have added fear on top of mystery to the forest experience. There’s a whole other climate of suspicion and vulnerability that has affected my sense of adventure – maybe more as a woman? Or maybe the fear is part of the mystery?

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