Tag Archives: Nature

The Light Before the Dawn

King of the Wood – Kevan Manwaring

There is a light in the darkness of the world that gleams – and the true of heart, the doughtiest of pilgrims, will finds its flame in the gloom. They know, in their ‘deep heart’s core’, as WB Yeats put it, that it exists – and that the maddening world is changed by its existence. Even the darkness is redeemed. The fallen Earth is transfigured. Even if only one frail light flickers somewhere there is hope. It cannot be put out as long as one person believes. The King of the Wood patiently awaits in His grove of peace, where the world of the noise fades. There, the first bold bird breaks the silence of the long night. Its vigil is over as it heralds the coming day. Even though it cannot be fully seen yet, the first bird knows the true light of the risen sun is on its way, and it starts to sing. The promise of the nimbus is enough.

Green Chapel – Kevan Manwaring

King of the Wood

In a grove of peace

intrepid pilgrims

can find you –

through a tangled wood,

beneath an ivy-clad arch,

a chapel of green.  

A mantle of moss,

silence swaddles you.

You hang in majestic grace –

arms open wide,

in robes and crown.

No cadaverous avatar of the desert this, but

Rex Nemorensis.

May you redeem the folly

of humankind,

the waywardness and thoughtlessness

of your children.

who destroy their home,

which belongs to all life

not just to them.

You hang upon the wooden cross –

a Dorset Odin upon the World Tree,

and ash surrounds you,

guards you.

The mighty sentinel at

the threshold holds vigil,

Yggdrasil of this hallowed chase.

You gaze upon all

who enter your temple –

open to the sky,

yet sheltered by the verdant canopy.

A stream engirdles you,

oak and hazel and hawthorn

bless you, or bend to the blessed.

Here the very trees are sanctified,

nature is made holy once more.

Here perhaps it is not mere Man

who comes to worship,

but the More-than-human.

The creatures of the air

and of the earth –

roots and claws, feet and wings.

And all receive your benediction.

Kevan Manwaring, 27 August 2022

King of the Wood – sketch – Kevan Manwaring

Hungry Times – a review of Hive by April Doyle

Hive by April Doyle – a review

April Doyle’s debut novel imagines a near future Britain ravaged by the impact of Colony Collapse Disorder, and its knock-on effect on the pollination of crops. With the devastating decline of bee populations – a keystone species in the ecosystem – the consequences on food production are catastrophic. Doyle’s Britain is not that dissimilar to the one we already live in – with food banks in more demand than ever, and parents having to make hard choices about how to feed their children – but taken to the extreme. With the rationing system and the constant background gnawing hunger of the characters it feels reminiscent of WW2 and the lean Post-War Years. Folk are forced to rely on their ingenuity, or willingness to transgress the narrow line between civilisation and barbarity. All of this could have been rather grim – Children of Men, Survivors, The Road … we’ve seen it all before: the cliché of dystopia; the tropes that have been done to death. But here, Doyle does something refreshingly different. Although the shadows are clearly present in this starving Britain (and sometimes devastatingly centre-stage) the author on the whole chooses to focus on her small cast – a farmer and his wife and their two young daughters, an old friend, a scientist and her assistant, a boyfriend and an ex-lover. Although they all endure hardship (or worse) their struggles have a life-affirming quality to them. Due to the nature of the scenario Doyle posits, food takes on an almost sacramental quality, as does the ‘miracle of nature’ itself – the wonder of bees, the cycle of life. The entomological aspects are well-researched and are intrinsic to the plot. Use of ‘found’ paratext from scientific journals, documentaries, and so forth deftly weave in exposition between the chapters, providing an interesting shift of register and scale. These could have come across as just a way for Doyle to show her research in an unleavened form (rather than working it into the fiction) but it becomes apparent the orthography of these infodumps have narrative relevance. The novel gains new energy with the addition of nanodrone technology (courtesy of an old flame), developed as replacement pollinators, and this conflation of nature and science is fascinating to read. In the hands of another author (e.g., Michael Crichton) this would have been a tech-thriller, but although this element catalyses things Doyle pulls back from punchy, full-throttle prose. Indeed, it is least convincing when she is forced to describe violence (although the death of one of the main characters is very moving). The chapters sometimes feel too brief, and the final reveal lacks foreshadowing (it is set up, but then strangely forgotten by the characters). Nevertheless, it is a well-told tale, one that was an engaging, enjoyable read. With ‘soft force’ it nudges the reader to think about food and where it comes from. By focusing on a single aspect of the ecosystem – bees – Doyle’s book has greater resonance and authority than those that adopt a wider approach. It is a welcome addition to the growing canon of ecofiction.

Kevan Manwaring, 12 April 2022

The Book of Trespass – a review

Nick Hayes asks who owns the land and who has the right to access it?

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Nick Hayes is an illustrator, best known for his graphic novels and distinctive black-and-white prints, but in this substantial hardback he shows he has the chops to carry off a very well-researched and engagingly-written non-fiction book. With the same precision that he renders the natural world through his art, Hayes, identifies the various layers of rights, rules, expectations, and entitlements around land-usage in Britain – the ‘spells’, as he puts it, of law that prevent us from crossing the sometimes invisible walls, fences, or thresholds of property. Each chapter is named after an animal – instilling an atavistic presence into Hayes’ conceptual and physical forays and incursions – ones often heedless of the artificial barriers humans impose on nature. The author weaves in his own experiences of trespass into his erudite interrogations into notions of property, space, boundaries, the rights of the commoner and the landowner, corporation, community, and individual. His firsthand accounts of stealthy flits into the vast estates of the mega-rich have a visceral frisson of transgression to them. And yet these aren’t macho versions of ‘urb-ex’ or rural flâneury, but often reflective ramblings with plenty of time to stand and stare, or, in Hayes’ case, sit and sketch. The ruminations on the rights of the (rambling) citizen amid the forests of legalese and doxas (ultra-orthodoxies considered a sacrosanct part of the status quo) and shibboleths of society, are counter-balanced with beers and sausages around campfires, and even the odd illegal high. Forbidden fruit is here to be tasted, Gardens of Edens scrumped, and grass definitely not kept off of. Two chapters stand out – one about the colonial spectre that haunts the ‘picturesque’ countryside: the slavery in stone of many a stately home; and the other about the Greenham Peace Camp and the rights (or lack) of women and property. These are impressive in their own right, but add to the heartfelt deconstruction of the glamourye of the property barons and (Conservative) consensus reality.  To his credit, Hayes consider both sides of the fence, and wishes for a more porous communication between polarised positions: it is the legal fiction of the fence that makes criminals of the commoner, and sows enmity between those who live on and love the land. Hayes considers other models of land usage and rights – and shows how the Scottish model is perfectly workable, with education and shared obligations of care and consideration. Other countries in Europe offer better access than the United Kingdom where 92% of the land and 97% of the waterways are off limits, often owned by offshore companies registered in tax utopias like the British Virgin Islands, and subsidised massively by government grants. Like Don Quixote, Hayes tilts at these windmills. His chutzpah and sheer cheekiness has to be admired, for it is done with wit, skill, and an artistic flourish. He is a most civilised interloper, even as he yearns for our wild roots to be see the light of day. Full of fascinating, eye-opening facts about the ‘countryside’ and the ‘rights’ we are deprived or begrudgingly granted by the descendants of those who stole the commons from us, The Book of Trespass is a must read for anyone who cares about access to the land – wherever one lives. Hayes reminds us that the stories we tell change our perception of place, of ecos and community, and it is time for those stories to change.

‘Trespass shines a light on the unequal share of wealth and power in England, it threatens to unlock a new mindset of our community’s rights to the land, and, most radical of all, it jinxes the spell of an old, paternalistic order that tell us everything is just as it should be.’

Nick Hayes, The Book of Trespass

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Kevan Manwaring, 8th February

The Book of Trespass is published by Bloomsbury

https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-book-of-trespass-9781526604699/

The Great Sky Speaks

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Dunnet Head – the most northerly point in Britain. Photo by Kevan Manwaring, 2020

A house cannot be big enough
to contain all this light,
except for perhaps
the house of creation —
a sky greater than my
field of vision,
an horizon more than my
parallax can assimilate.

Beyond, rags and scraps
of land – full of ancient
mysteries and rich-tongued
people. Selkies and fisherfolk.
Seas that have seen Vikings and
grey-hulled Germans in war-time,
explorers and dreamers.

From here, there is only south,
for landlubbers like me anyway.
My two wheels have only got me
this far, but now the road
wends to sunset – from
the east’s oil-smooth, beast-flattened coast
to the west’s soft-tongued, yearning shore.

It is a place of possibility,
of beginnings and endings.
Here, I could start a movement
that could sweep the land
like a wave,
or peter out against the rocks
of indifference.

Yet there is hope here.
This is not the place
for denial. It is one
of immanence. Spirit
speaks in the susurration
of surf and wind.
An edge to contemplate the
centre,
an emptiness to consider the
fullness

the way deity
has found its way into every miniscule
corner, with an attention to detail,
a loving awareness and diligence,
which is endless.

Here, even amid the campervans and
motorbikes, daytrippers and tourers,
the Great Sky speaks.

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Dunnet Head – home to a thriving colony of sea-birds, including puffin, gannet, fulmar, & shag. Photo by Kevan Manwaring, 2020

Written at Dunnet Head, Wednesday, 2nd September, 2020

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

The Green Fuse

THE GOLDEN ROOM EPISODE #10 – THE GREEN FUSE

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‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower…’ Dylan Thomas. Photo by Kevan Manwaring, March 2020

This is a special ‘emergency’ episode of The Golden Room to offer some solace during the COVID-19 global crisis, and to celebrate the coming of Spring. However challenging the current circumstances life continues – and is tangible in every hedgerow, every bird-song, every new bud. This medley comprises my selection of classic poems about the season, along with new work by myself, Ella Bloomfield, and the late Jay Ramsay. Music is provided by Chantelle Smith, Rosemary Duxbury, La Zag, Rick Ward, and Beggard Velvet. May you find this selection soothing. Please pass on to any who you feel will benefit from it.

LISTEN TO THE GREEN FUSE HERE

Track Listings:

THE GOLDEN ROOM EPISODE #10 THE GREEN FUSE
  1. Introduction by Kevan Manwaring/Reverie by Rosemary Duxbury
  2. Lines Written in Early Spring: William Wordsworth
  3. Sumer is icumen in: Anon, 13th anon./voice & harp by Chantelle Smith, 2020
  4. The Trees: Philip Larkin
  5. S.L.: La Zag (from ‘Hic Sunt Leones’)
  6. The Names of the Hare: Translation from the Middle English by Seamus Heaney
  7. Didgeridoo: Sam Bloomfield (from ‘Phoenix’ sampler)
  8. Viriditas*: Hildegard von Bingen
  9. Bright Blue Rose: Marko Gallaidhe (trad.)
  10. Heather’s Spring: Kevan Manwaring
  11. Rosemary Duxbury (from ‘Thread of Gold’)
  12. ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’: Dylan Thomas
  13. Oak, Ash, and Thorn: Beggars Velvet (trad. From ‘Lady of Autumn’)
  14. 14.  When green buds hang in the elm: A.E. Housman
  15. My Bonny Cuckoo: Chantelle Smith (trad., recorded 2020)
  16. Cotswold Love: John Drinkwater
  17. Banjo: Rick Ward (from ‘Keeping the Tradition’)
  18. Spring: Edna St. Vincent Millay
  19. Song Birds: Ella Bloomfield (from ‘Phoenix’)
  20. Lullaby: Jay Ramsay (from ‘Phoenix’)

* Viriditas (Latin, literally “greenness,” formerly translated as “viridity”) is a word meaning vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure, or growth. It is particularly associated with abbess Hildegard von Bingen, who used it to refer to or symbolize spiritual and physical health, often as a reflection of the divine word or as an aspect of the divine nature.

 

Selection by Kevan Manwaring 20th March 2018