Updated: Dec 2, 2020
NOW ALSO A PODCAST - CLICK HERE TO LISTEN
Welcome to my little November lockdown project where, each week, I post about a particular tree, plant, place, element of the outdoors etc that is accessible to everyone during our time outside over the coming month. I'll be talking about some of the fascinating folklore associated with each week's chosen element, will recommend and link you to a particular story, and I'll also share some of our favourite outdoor storying ideas and activities for you to try out when you next slip outside for some much needed fresh air and exercise!
It's basically all about encouraging you to create a 'folktrail ' for yourselves - a kind of story-orientated walk - for you to enjoy when you are next outdoors!
For adults, this might take the form of enjoying listening to the story while sat under the relevant tree - relaxing and meditating on all you might draw from the story and pondering which bits feel most relevant to life that day or the world at large. (I'm hoping that it will also inspire you to listen to a few more folklore podcasts, to return home and cook up some story-informed feast or even perhaps become as obsessed as I am about subjects such as tree lore, natural navigation and the healing power of plants!) For kids and families, my plan is to provide you with a focus for your walks that can feed your love of story, inspire your outdoor play, fill you with curious facts and encourage some new and unique outdoor adventures for everyone!
THIS WEEK'S FOCUS - BERRIES
While we're pretty much past blackberry smeared fingers and faces, there are still plenty more berries to be spotted in the parks and hedgerows around us. Not forgetting the importance of reminding little assistant pickers that berries are only collected when a grown up is around and knows what they are looking for...berry picking is great fun and there's lots of splendid recipes out there for you to get busy with! If you're keen to know more about which to pick, what to do with them, and wild food in general, check out these ladies on Instagram - Rachel Lambert and The Family Foraging Kitchen. They inspire me daily! (The identification app Flora Incognita is also a fab app to have on your phone!)
Berries in folklore
Berries are often symbolic in stories - sometimes positive and sometimes negative, as is the case with most pieces in the story jigsaw! Their meaning often changes across cultures as well. Take the blackberry for example. Mediterranean folklore tells us that while the blackberry was once beautiful, it was cursed by Lucifer when he fell into the bush when he was chucked out of heaven. (In Greek myth, by the way, a guy called Bellerophon also fell into a bush when he was silly enough to try and ride Pegasus. He ended up blind and you can see why the blackberry can also be believed to symbolise arrogance! (If we are to learn anything practical from this then perhaps just try not to fall into blackberry bushes when picking them for your pies!) On a lighter, more positive note, raspberries (which incidentally were also apparently discovered by the Olympian gods) are seen as a symbol of kindness. In some art, red raspberry juice is argued to represent the blood running through our hearts, which is believed to be where kindness originates. It's also been used medicinally since time began, with women drawing on them to assist with childbirth and fertility...and there are plenty of spells on hand to improve the libido should you be interested! (Check out The Practical Herbalist if you find this kind of thing as fascinating as me - I find it great for 'memory pegging' the names of plants etc. You certainly don't forget things in a hurry when you've heard a crazy fact about it during your research!)
STORY #1: THE DREAM MAKERS (A story that starts with the picking of blaeberries...)
Click here to listen to the following podcast from The Fair Folk in which superb storyteller Daniel Allison talks to folklore expert Danica Boyce about how we can make our dreams a reality with the winter dark as our guide and protector. Daniel will also tell you the beautiful story of 'The Dream Makers' where, long ago and on the Isle of Skye, a young girl was so focused on her blaeberry picking that she strayed from the group into a world she might never have imagined existed...
Click here if you would prefer to read the story or wish to take it with you outside.
Outdoor storying ideas for adults
Listen to the podcast: Take this story - podcast version - along with you on your next walk (link above). Danica and Daniel spend time talking about how we can view the winter time, and lockdown perhaps, in a more positive way; seeing it as time to apprentice yourself to new bodies of knowledge, time to rest, time to learn from those we have around us or those we can call or watch online. It's well worth listening to what they have to say about the story, and if you fancy thinking a bit more about it, why not have a read of the article below...
Read Sharon Blackie's article on the story and perhaps even look up her bestselling book If Women Rose Rooted that 'leads women on a quest to find their necessary and unique place in the world, drawing inspiration from the wise and powerful females in her native mythology, and guidance from contemporary women who have re-rooted themselves in land and community and taken responsibility for shaping the future.'
Create and craft: I've recently been working with trainee art psychotherapist Jenny of Start Art Wellbeing and Redcatch Community Garden on a project that combines art and story to explore wellbeing. People who have joined the group have told us how important they have found creativity to be during lockdown - how it not only feels good to do but also opens up another way to understand yourself and your feelings and allow surprising ideas, awareness, thoughts and feelings to come to the fore. So why not pop the podcast on and sit down with pen, paper, clay etc and see what the story might inspire you to create, whilst also enjoying all the benefits that come with that focused spell of creativity!
Outdoor storying ideas for kids
Share the story: I really recommend taking this story along on your walk and finding somewhere outside to sit down where you can all listen quietly together. The story itself starts at 25:10 on the podcast or you could print a copy of the story from here. If you want to make it a little more atmospheric, you could head towards the highest spot nearby or perhaps somewhere a little like a cave? If you're lucky enough to live near a deep park then definitely head there!
Collecting: My kids love collecting and after the story why not suggest doing some picking or collecting of your own? You could set them the challenge of gathering a certain number of acorns, rosehips, blackberries in a certain amount of time, or ask them to collect leaves, nuts or berries and set up a trail for you to follow. (Remember to identify the object they are to be collecting beforehand and emphasise the importance of only touching those things a grownup has said are safe!)
Walk the story: this is where the concept of the 'Folktrail' really comes into it's own. Following a story like this, we'll often set out with certain objectives in mind - we'll be looking for berries, a climb uphill, the birds in the story, a cave...and it's often not long before the kids start creating their own version of the story (apologies if you end up roped in as the 'ancient'!)
Bird spotting: it will probably be tricky trying to spot an eagle, a falcon, a lark or a wren, but a raven or crow might be achievable...and perhaps ask the children which birds they would connect to which dreams.
Dream chalking: take some chalk along with you on the walk and ask the children to recreate some of their favourite dreams along the paths you take.
Art: Crack out the crafting kit and have a go at storyboarding the tale or drawing the characters that you have encountered in the story - do this inside or out!
Blackberry painting: blackberries are still about and they make excellent paint when squashed and dabbed on sloth. Rip up some old sheets and give it a go. Perhaps you can even paint one of the dreams!
Let's share these adventures!
One thing that this year has really done for us is to create powerfully supportive online communities and I'm keen to keep sharing all the incredible adventures that people are having - even when those adventures are a little more local! So make sure you tag @thewildofthewords on Instagram and Facebook. At the end of November, we'll choose a winning picture and create an extra special tailor-made personal podcast focusing on a story selected especially for our winner and including tips on a wide range of fantastic outdoor activities that can be connected to the tale in question!
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