Updated: Dec 5, 2020
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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 - TREES
If there is one element of the great outdoors that we all feel familiar with - it's trees! These quiet giants, benevolent witnesses of history and time, provide us with the oxygen we need to breathe, protect us by capturing the carbon dioxide that harms our atmosphere, and gift us a scientifically proven increase in our overall wellbeing.
Research shows that spending time with trees considerably reduces anxiety, hostility, fatigue, confusion, depression and boosts immunity, leads to better health, creativity and even an increase in kindness towards others! You might have heard about 'forest bathing' and the benefits it provides. If not, check out the awesome Hidden Valley Bushcraft's Youtube channel and discover more about 'bathing' in wooded spaces near you.
Trees in folklore
Our trees have been steeped in myth for thousands of years, and each have their own very special associations and stories. The ash tree (our lead in today's story) was thought to have healing properties, with tiny babies being given a spoonful of sap and sick children being passed through the cleft of a tree if they were poorly. I find Yew particularly fascinating - its longevity and toxicity having perhaps led to it being associated with death and resurrection in the Celtic culture. (Did you know that some of the oldest trees in Britain are estimated to be as old as 9,000 years!) Hazel (the tree that was often used to hedge and which is recognisable via the many straight sticks poking up from its base) is associated with knowledge and wisdom because of an ancient Celtic story that involves nuts, salmon, wisdom and the thumb of a hero called Finn MacCool! Which you can find out more about if you click here! Aspen was used Celtic shields and was good for protection (especially as it also allowed you to visit the Underworld), apple is a symbol of fertility, Beech is considered the 'Queen of the Trees'...and I could go on for ever! If you are interested in learning a bit more about trees in general then it's well worth checking out the Woodland Trust's site - there are loads of helpful tips for identifying trees and at the bottom of each page it talks about their associated folklore (which is great for then helping you remember the tree!)
For me, trees constantly remind me of the cycle of life and the seeds that litter the woodland floor this autumn feel particularly symbolic - urging us to remember the new beginnings and life that will return after winter.
STORY #2: THE NORSE CREATION MYTH and the birth of the World Tree Yggdrasil...
In this week's blog, I've asked the fabulous Dawn Nelson (DD Storyteller) to share a story that she feels is relevant to today. The tale she has chosen to tell is the ancient Norse Creation Myth in which the great ash tree Yggdrasil is born out of the cold, black sooty darkness of the beginning...
Click here to hear Dawn's wonderful retelling of the story. Click here if you would prefer to read a version of the story (although this one doesn't include Yggdrasil) and here if you would like to know more about The World Tree Yggdrasil.
Outdoor storying ideas for adults
Listen to the audio story: on your walk this week and spend some time considering how the story could encourage us to view the winter time, and lockdown perhaps, in a more positive way. I'd be really keen to hear your thoughts on this!
Some of my readers set about writing last week - perhaps grab yourself a copy of Robert MacFarlane's The Wild Places and inspire yourself to write after a walk outside!
Tree identification: refine your skills with the Flora Incognita app.
Find out about the folklore attached to another one of our British trees, Hawthorn. Tune into the brilliant History and Folklore podcast and have a listen to this episode.
Follow Saxon Forager and learn how to make acorn coffee!
Listen to Icy Sedgewick's 'Fabulous Folklore' podcast to find our more about our mythical trees!
Challenge yourself this weekend - try making fire by friction. This takes time and practice (stick with it, no pun intended!) Visit Backcountry Survival for some tips!
Outdoor storying ideas for kids
Walk the story: I really recommend taking the story along on your walk and finding somewhere outside to sit down where you can all listen together. Set children the challenge of finding elements of the story outside - the dragon's foot (base of a tree), the rivers, the cows, the giants (look for these sleeping in trees or in mounds upon the ground!)
Collecting: My kids love collecting and after the story why not suggest doing some collecting of ash keys or acorns? Remember to identify the objects they are to be collecting beforehand and emphasise the importance of only touching those things a grownup has said are safe!)
Animal spotting: see if you can spot the hawk Vedfolnir, the squirrel Ratatosk, a foot of the dragon Nidhogg which is often found at the bottom of trees in the park, (here's some info to help with the animals and their names)
Art: Crack out the crafting kit and have a go at storyboarding the tale or drawing Yggdrasil! Alternatively, the little ones might like creating their own world tree!
Nature Detective: the Woodland Trust have a great selection of activities and resources to provide everyone with plenty of ideas about what they can get up to in the outdoors! It's now called 'Tree Tools for Schools' and you can check them out here!
Outdoor adventuring: Take a peek at the wonderful Go Wild Go West's blog for inspiration here - and I've a suspicion that I'll be adding some further excitement from these ladies later in the week so watch this space! There's also the gorgeous Life Rewilded to take a peek at for outdoor activity inspiration (check out the outdoor activity advent calendar!)
Little ones might like to listen to another exciting tree story: enjoy 'The Fairy Thorn' story told by Tales From the Dragonfly!
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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