A Bit of Wilderness
By Malaika Cunningham, Artistic Director of The Bare Project.
“Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth? … To plant seeds in—to make things grow—to see them come alive”
from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
In May 2021 we began work on a seed and story exchange project called ‘A Bit of Earth’, as part of The Festival of Debate and Can Do South Yorkshire. People from all over South Yorkshire sent us stories about the ‘bits of earth’ which helped get them through the lockdowns of the pandemic.
In return, we sent them packages of seeds and hand-drawn ‘pop-up’ maps which led them to local community gardens – which hosted a ‘bit of earth’ for the storytellers to plant in. All of these stories are now available to listen to here.
In this mini-blog series, we’ll be drawing out some of the themes which run through these stories and sharing some of the stories told. In this blog, I want to celebrate the wild and the wilderness.
The idea of ‘re-wilding’ has become a bestseller idea over the past few years – creeping into both agricultural policies and corporate social responsibility. To ‘re’ ‘wild’: taking away the order that humans impose on a space to allow for natural chaos. Or, perhaps more accurately, for animals, plants, insects, and fungi to organise themselves and build their own rich networks without human imposition.
In a micro form of re-wilding, one story speaks of their neighbour’s overgrown garden – which has been left for at least 10 years to run wild:
This space invites many non-human species, from conifer trees, to birds with tear-drop nests, to foxes. It allows our domestic spaces to become small communities for a wide range of other creatures and plants.
Other stories also spoke of ways to re-connect with the wild – to quietly observe. And become part of the wilderness through silent stillness:
It is interesting to acknowledge the different relationship with time in this story. The wild is not just a visual experience, but also a temporal one. Sumana Roy puts it beautifully in describing the concept of ‘tree time’:
What exactly was tree time then? I wandered aimlessly through philosophical discussions on time until it came to me one night, in my salty sleep: carpe diem, seize the moment, living in the present—that was tree time, a life without worries for the future or regret for the past. There’s sunlight: gulp, swallow, eat; there’s night: rest.
We fill our time, we allocate time like it is a pie to be sliced. This is, perhaps, one of our biggest disassociations with nature – that we struggle to exist within the same concepts of time.
I was recently on an artistic residency in which we met a landscape architect who has built her life around working with trees in urban spaces. She told us that many urban street trees we plant now have an expected lifespan of 10-15 years, as their root space is so limited and the concrete which encases them does not allow for proper drainage. When asked why any planner would do this – if they know this fact – she replied that political terms and funding cycles taught us to only to consider the immediate future. 10 or 15 years is too far in the future for us to worry about the death of these trees.
One connection to ‘tree time’ offered in the stories contributed for this project is through the connection with seasons. Rather than framing our lives around the 9 to 5, we could respond to the seasons, as the wild wishes us to do:
In these stories and bits of earth there is a celebration of the wild, a reply to its demand for human space, its alternative approach to time, its mirroring of ourselves, and its fearful edges.
Do explore the archive in its entirety – and continue to find ways of celebrating the bits of earth in your life!