Love Songs to Nature

There is a song by Karine Polwart, the Scottish folk singer songwriter, about Thrift, the little pink flower that clings to the edges of our land. One of the lyrics goes,

‘Thrift’s gift is, Thrift’s grace is, to thrive in harsh places, And show us hardship is a limit not a failing’

I had the good luck to listen to Karine singing this song a cappella, and listening made me realise that this was a true love song to a flower, a plant, perhaps to all of nature. Love is a to and fro, and comes in many forms. Can nature act as friend, companion, and love?

Much of my reading over the last year has fed into these questions. I’m currently reading ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an American botanist, of Native American descent. She recounts the story in her book of the questions she always asks her first year college students. Firstly: who thinks they love the earth? (most hands shoot up). Secondly: Who thinks the earth loves them? (very few, if any, hands rise).

The idea that the earth is loving us back, just as fiercely as we love it, is something very few of us have contemplated- but surely that is the foundation of true relationship. Can we live in a loving relationship with the earth? Can we give and take?

I have been actively holding that thought in my head as I walk over the last few months, and it has started to transform my relationship with nature. I have found myself thanking the trees and woods before now- for showing me something, for giving me tranquility and beauty. An upwelling of gratitude, rooted in the idea that the earth is truly alive and wishes me to be well.

Before you dismiss me as totally bonkers, may I recommend 3 further books that have changed my thinking on nature this year. ‘Ways of Being’ by James Bridle and ‘Entangled Life’ by Merlin Sheldrake: both are wide-ranging, philosophical and exciting books exploring our symbiosis and interplay with the ‘more than human’ world as James Bridle puts it (‘Entangled Life’ is ostensibly about mycelium and fungi, but that’s just the start of it…) Both are full of startling revelations, page after page.

One of the chapters in ‘Ways of Being’ (it is very wide ranging), finds James Bridle delving into our true evolutionary journey, describing evolution as a thicket, rather than a tree (the standard diagram used to show it), explaining that if we look back far enough, some of our uniqueness as a species has actually come from symbiosis between mammals and plants or viruses. Entangled with the ‘more than human’ we are indeed.

Last but not least, I have just finished Alistair McIntosh’s 2001 book ‘Soil and Soul’ (I know, I’m late to the party…), which is so broad and beautiful a book that it’s hard to pick out 1 or 2 points, but suffice to say that McIntosh believes that the earth, and particularly the bit of the earth we call home, provides us with deep meaning. If we allow it to be destroyed or ‘owned’ by others, that also has great meaning to us as humans. He entreats us to ‘dig where we are’, to find the good and the meaning in our own places, in order to blossom. I couldn’t agree more.

I think of my artwork as a flow of energy- allowing the attention and love I show the earth to be re-shaped into a new and different beauty, which hopefully will inspire others to attention and love too. My own love notes to the land.