Sunday, 8 November 2015

Vanishing Undercurrents

I recently read an article which suggested, judging by legends and stories and oral histories, that the South Downs are host to a far greater density of fairies and mystical happenings then the rest of the surrounding Sussex county. (see article here)
At the same time, I had a discussion via social media regarding ancient mystical meanings within nature and how there are layers of meanings within our landscape, much of which we have lost, but which would have been everyday understanding and language in past times. 

A simple view even, for example, is far more than shades of green and brown; each tree and plant species had properties and uses, each hollow or rise in the ground a name, an association. But a layer beneath the practical is the spiritual; a connection with land and place. 

Now we walk the trails, gaze at the views, live our lives working and playing upon the fields and streets, but how much do we allow ourselves to feel or see those layers, to understand them and make the connection? 
When I walk an ancient trackway I like to pause and feel my footsteps falling into the treads of those many who have walked the same route. I am intrigued to decipher the patterns of the view spread out before me and attempt to read it like a map. I embrace the moments when the hairs rise on the back of my neck at the sense of something unseen, but unforgotten by the woods or stones or earth. There is an undercurrent of knowledge and history within every nook and cranny and open space of our landscape, a treasure trove of language and dialect, culture and stories which is quickly and easily becoming lost and forgotten, but is part of our identity and heritage. 

It is these thoughts, and a view from the West Sussex Downs, which has inspired the following "Ode to Sussex", and a desire to look deeper, to explore, to connect with and to conserve these vanishing undercurrents. 

An Ode to Sussex – Sussex Born and Sussex Bred

The rattle of the gate-chain in the hilltop wind is the clink-clanking of sheep bells.
The bonfire smoke curling skywards from a wooded garden marks the charcoal burner’s camp.
Barrows slumber, dreaming of sword and sacrifice on the green sward; shadows march in the mist.
Below, on the dim coastal plain, streetlights flickering on make pinpoints of orange glow across the city; fires in hearths and night-lights of Roman children.
Beyond, it is hard to tell where land merges with the shifting edge of a blank glint of sea.

The drovers’ track deepens with every passing of onward feet.
The evergreen yew grows thick within the churchyard wall.
We gather on the levels, dash down the twitten, climb up the rolling Downs.
In dell and knoll the farisees still linger if we listen hard enough on moonlit nights or walk widdershins about the ring and keep our counting as we go.
As the flint is of the chalk, we are of the land, and its history and all that have gone before are distilled in the land and thus in us.

Sussex born and Sussex bred, we are sustained by the waters the Downs have shed, and to this place our hearts are wed.