Today I feel I may have got my last haul from the bole of the chestnut tree… “my chestnut tree” who presides over the entrance to Glenview park.
As I write this I feel the precariousness of her position, on a road, a conduit East – West across the City’s Northside, but thankfully not the main one, she is the guardian of our park. I have been picking up the glowing kernels since September where they fall. This patch, like all the roadside verges is managed by the council, who mow here regularly, and I harbour feelings of guilt over my obsessive pickings, knowing that they would be crushed and turned to mulch, like the husks I leave behind, to feed the earth. Knowing my intervention will have repercussions these thoughts are brought into the mix of the ritual of the circling of the tree. Tuning into the ground beneath my feet, the domes of empty shell subtly different to those containing nut or the slide of nut alone. I enjoy becoming sensitised through my soles to the ground beneath, to the offerings of the tree. I have seen the freshly opened linings of the newly fallen by their glowing white, these alert me to a new finding, a singular new finding of findings which accumulate with each new passing. Some cases have had their conkers bounced completely out and I will find the chestnut in the grass nearby, while others split off a segment, which will indicate nearby a cloister of the other two sections harbouring the glossy brown treasure which, on picking I will prise from its spongy satin walls yielding its soapy inner skin. Today I find a small naked one in the grass, it may be one I overlooked, it’s skin is darkened and it lacks the lustre of the newly hatched, but as usual, the finding of one opens the forager’s sixth sense, alerting me to others nestling nearby, the prickly outside looking more whole somehow, betraying their bountiful presence as they hide among the grass. Today I find six in all, rich pickings as I had expected fewer, anticipating my final haul…when this day comes it will be momentous… it will have already passed.. – We have had heavy rains and winds and sunny spells on the in-between days across last week, culminating with a major deluge on Sunday. All of this intention for collecting of gatheirng my senses and noticing has massed into a ritual and an aknowledgment of my relationship with tree: the circles happen, beginning in the middle ground , radiating to the outsides, coming back in close as I tread the ground, all senses alert, to ground and not least to passers by as I must have become a regular site here treading and circling, bending and peering and plucking at the base of a tree who yields no fruit for regular, adult behavior. On the final inner circle I remember to touch the bark and as I leave I look back at the tree her branches now showing plenty of sky, she is etched in my mind as I leave for home with whatever haul I’ve made for the day.
I wonder sometimes at the need for this foraging, summoning an ancient instinct of hunter gatherer ancestry, a need for deep connection with land and soil of changing seasons and nature’s bounty, as the days grow shorter a gathering of stores, the squirrel in me harbours this joy and impulse to collect. In my studio they gather, I’ve been informed that the gases emitted by horse chestnuts will ward off spiders, (the arachnophobe in me is grateful). I’ve seen recipes for crushing the chestnuts into laundry soap. I fend off practical uses for the chestnuts, the ritual of collecting is all I need, a connection with tree without any purpose is important, the connection made in movement, gesture, time and repetition the reciprocity I have bound in spell between tree and me. A song.
In the studio I look for the brown of the nut in layers of colour I put down on paper, attempting to build the pattern and depth while the nut retains its lustre, the chestnuts darken quickly withdrawing back into themselves and contract, hard and wizened on the strings I’ve made. I have a whole tree’s season of chestnuts here… I imagine that with due diligence I have gathered not quite every single one the tree has produced this year. There, with a couple of additional nuts from Birr, some from the trees in the park and from the tree up the road … the exceptions proving the rule… or the glitches which take us out of the rut, essential catalysts for a spiralling evolution ( I see more burnt orange in the nuts from Birr)… or a proof that I move about the land a little further than the doorstep of home… or a network greeting other trees in other parts… All of this, and not a betrayal as I have pondered before, a mapping of migrations and returnings.
I remember the gathering of different numbers on different occasions … at the height of the season there were too many to hold in view, but latterly there have been the constellations formed by different numbers 11, 12, 4, 6. The numbers resonate in patterns, emitting a certain tone, the ultimate collection of 6 appears somehow like a 5, one elides another in the pattern of its placement, in my minds eye, and in its relationship with the others. The mixture of sizes plays with distance and proximity in the same way we perceive and judge the stars. How they look on my table, each makes contact with the surface at its shadow, another form cast from the light behind, showing a weightiness and, at the same time a lively buoyancy at its contact with the ground, a contrariness that has fascinated me of matter held together in this way, each a capsule of itself.
The connection I feel is a musical one, repetition, rhythm, weight, buoyancy, proximity, distance, glossiness fading to dullness, iteration, reiteration, chestnut as notation… somehow I want to express the song.
Addendum – later on Tuesday …
In retrospect I must have been aware of the motors yesterday … I took off for an evening stroll and greeted the tree, where I found the ground was patterned with drifts from blade and tyre, leaves mulched, linear heaps of decaying brown in the newly leveled live green … here a different kind of tide mark from the rains, I note the overlay of tractor trails on my walking patterns circling the tree, I see the old horse chestnut shells now mixed up with shorn and torn leaves I see conkers, unharmed still, peeping out from the piles I collect them all – 8 beauties so this was the last day of the conker …perhaps
I have been reading about becoming compost seemingly online, I find Sophie Strand reciting her I will not be purified (Amanda Palmer and others here providing the fertile soil out of which the words can grow) and have drifted across her in conversation with Andreas Weber about the indiscriminate eroticism of becoming food, the act of love in decay, a yielding and active participation in earthly cycles … it all rings very true with me <3