…old roots, new roots, uproot, reroute….
When I am unsettled, I return to nature. These days I’m roaming woodlands and mountains in Northern Ireland, discovering places that feel bound by deep enchantment.
In the above picture I crouch in the roots of an immense Sitka spruce in Downhill Forest on the Ulster Way. Moss is thick, moist and soft under my hand. Apart from the odd spinning leaf, everything is still. The earth is sodden, sounds are muffled.
Lichen smothers trees and tiny ferns flourish in the ruined walls of an old mill. It feels no-one has set foot here for hundreds of years. And yet the place is alive with rippling waterways.
The worldwide pandemic has caused huge upheaval this year. Established ways of living and working have been uprooted, perhaps gone for ever. Lives, jobs, homes and even the most well-established institutions are lost.
In my case, social distancing and lockdown restrictions made my hands-on work as a Shiatsu therapist impossible. All my face to face yoga classes stopped overnight. Soon after I was physically uprooted from the beautiful country cottage where I lived and worked.
It was brutal and unexpected but there were compensations. I overcame my deep rooted dread of teaching on camera and rebuilt my business online using Zoom. I acquired new students in Brighton, Birmingham, Italy and France.
And I was anchored by huge generosity. Clients offered to store my belongings, friends helped me pack and gave me a place to stay. This was an opportunity to reinvent myself, learn new skills, explore new places.
In the age of Covid almost every form of life, business and leisure, is ‘virtual’. I am discovering I don’t need roots in same way. Working online means I can be anywhere. I am liberated from the constraints of place and geography.
But let’s be honest, rootlessness is disconcerting. I find myself buying plants and planting seeds for friends. I can’t stop myself from sending out rooting, tenuous and on a tiny scale.
Returning to nature, I tread old paths, imagining the souls who walked there, I am connecting with the ancestors, establishing a lineage, the human alternative to roots.
Nature isn’t always a balm. It wreaks havoc too. Storm damage in the forest is shocking. Trees are brutally ripped apart, branches wrenched from the trunk, roots rise jagged towards the sky. There is fascination and terrible beauty in the destruction. Fungi and fern flourish in the wreckage. Chocolate coloured mushrooms ripen out of the rot.
After the carnage, it’s reassuring to see the giant spruce, upright and orderly. Judging by the diameter of the trunk – more than FIVE metres wide – it’s been here a couple of hundred years. It is showing no signs of going anywhere.
Leaning back against the gnarly trunk, I am reminded that no tree is an island. These species are intimately connected, sharing resources, through an underground labyrinth of root fungi, that some call the wood-wide-web.
Roots are deeply communal, they give protection and support. They are conduits between trees, sharing vital nutrients in the way good neighbours loan cups of sugar and other supplies.
I take vicarious pleasure in this. Rootless, I am lying back, hoping I too can borrow from this vast benevolent network beneath the forest floor.