‘It is not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.’
David Henry Thoreau
How are the mighty fallen?
The quotation ‘How are the mighty fallen?’ is from David’s lament in the Old Testament’s second book of Samuel. David mourns the loss of King Saul and his son, Jonathan, both who have fallen in battle. The comparison between fallen trees and those fallen in combat may seem over dramatic, and morphing sap into blood, over sentimental. However, trees are such a vital part of our environment, that dramatic stop lights are required to draw attention to the frequent carnage of tree felling on building sites or on land destined for cash crops. The callous disregard toward trees, over thousands of years, has led to the de-forestation of Britain, and more recently, the Amazon — with worldwide consequences for climate change. There’s a danger in anthropomorphism – whether talking to trees or hugging them — however, they live in supportive communities, communicate with and feed one another and deserve to be treated as the sophisticated eco-system that they are.
As well as being victims of the chainsaw, the reasons why trees fall are many. Old age, disease, storms, wildfires and flooding, to name a few. However, ‘death by natural causes’ is all too rare. Soil erosion on our uplands and the frequent swelling of rivers is loosening tree roots and making them more vulnerable to storms. Also, the increase in tree diseases is due largely to human interference with respect to land use.
So the question ‘How are the mighty fallen?’ needs an answer whenever we come across a fallen tree.
The scientific name for crow is ‘corvid’ – menacingly close to the name of our current global health crisis, which is wreaking, not only a devastating death toll, but also a deterioration in the mental health of so many.
In European folklore crows have long been seen as harbingers of death, and it was crows that Van Gogh painted in one of his last works before he committed suicide. The canvas ‘Wheatfield with Crows’ was painted while he was suffering from severe depression and it expresses his darkest premonitions.
Equally global and devastating is our climate crisis, of which our love affair with plastic, now littering our countrysjde, is but one example. Nature has become so entangled with plastic — sometimes it becomes difficult to see one from the other. And of course these two worldwide catastrophes are joined painfully at the hip.
Van Gogh said this about his painting: ‘Wheat is not only people’s primary form of sustenance, but also symbolic of the ripening and reaping of human life. I had no difficulty in expressing my sadness and extreme loneliness, but also all that I consider healthy and fortifying about the countryside – the brush almost fell from my hand.’ The path was an image he used when preaching a sermon based on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, where Pilgrim is weighed down by the road of life that feels so long, and yet rejoices because he knows the eternal city is waiting at the end of the journey.
2018 has seen carrier bags become the latest culprits of pollution. Yet backlit by the sun they become angels, and remind us to look for ‘heaven in ordinary’. The Celts celebrated the sacred in everyday life. Even our plastic bags ‘caught in a thicket’ can pose as messengers on Jacob’s ladder, in Mary’s parlour or over the shepherds’ fields.
As Donald Allchin used to say, ‘the mundane is the edge of glory’.
Plastic Pollution 1
'This is the Gate of Heaven'
53 x 42cm | 2018
Plastic Pollution 2
'Hail, you who are highly favoured'
53 x 42cm | 2018
Plastic Pollution 3
'I bring you Good News'
53 x 42cm | 2018
Plastic Pollution 4
'The Angel of Death in Exodus 12'
53 x 43cm | 2019
The Lord’s angel of destruction killed the firstborn male children of Egypt as God’s final plague. However, all the Israelite boys were spared so long as the household splashed lamb’s blood on their door posts and lintels. This event became known as The Passover and has been celebrated on the anniversary by Jewish families ever since. The Passover foreshadowed the crucifixion of Jesus, which took place at the time of the annual festival, and enabled sinful human beings to be forgiven and reconciled to God.
Plastic Pollution 5
'The Angel of Death in 2 Samuel 24'
53 x 43cm | 2019
God’s angel of death was seen by King David with a sword extended over Jerusalem. The angel had been sent to wreak plague on Israel because David had sinned. Reconciliation took place and David built an altar and made a peace offering to the Lord on the site on which his son Solomon would build the temple.
Adam and Eve
after Masacio’s ‘Adam and Eve Expelled from the Garden of Eden’ 15th Century
89 x 38cm | 2015
During a woodland walk, in a flash, I saw standing before me Adam and Eve – shortly before they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. The serpent was there, as was the Tree of Good and Evil, the Tree of Calvary and the Tree of Life. The ivy, like evil, entwined the couple as they in turn clung to the tree.
The relationship of English Ivy (Hedera helix) to our trees has similarities to the behaviour of evil toward human beings. Its habit is to attach itself to anything that stands, with the help of suction-like roots called ‘hold fasts’. Although it does not kill the tree, it competes for nutrients, water and sunlight, and so may weaken the tree making it more prone to disease and branch dieback.
The Three Graces
560 x 360cm | 2019