If you go down to the woods today

Our latest pop-up writing workshop saw a group of 26 members (and a few new faces) join Neil Baker and John Simmons for a walk in the woods. Becca Magnus reports back on this writing ramble inspired by 26 Trees.

One unseasonably damp June afternoon, writers from across London and beyond traversed across the muggy city to find inspiration among the trees of Highgate Woods.  This particular wood is a curious area. On the border of the well-to-do hills of North London and rural Middlesex, these ancient woods have stood in quiet contemplation since the late 17th century. The shambles of London have grown around proud oaks and wily hornbeams, drawing fellow ramblers, flaneurs and writers from across the city to rest in their shade.

Like many wanderers before us, we ventured into the woods to connect and reconnect. Led by Neil Baker and John Simmons, we started with a discussion on the nature of trees and gentle exercises in free writing and haiku. Trees communicate through their roots, sensing and reacting as one to micro changes in the environment. They notice, and through free writing, we remember to notice as well.

Moving from the collective to the individual, we moved among the trees deep in the wood, asking ourselves ‘If I were a tree, what would I do?’ Unusual questions provoke interesting answers, and the responses covered everything from self-love to finding childlike wonder, in a cracking line from Faye Sharpe:

“If I were a tree, I would grow down before I grow up”

After musings over tea, we took inspiration from Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Last night the rain spoke to me’ to create our own pieces, weaving our words with hers to create an original piece that we shared with each other. Just as Oliver’s poem mindfully and joyfully explores a moment in nature, our own pieces explored how trees had influenced our words. My own piece explored the moment when we observe nature, and it observes us back:

Today the trees spoke to me,
whispers of curiosity
from root to leaf
as I shook a branch
to make acquaintance.
A thrum of recognition,
a polite twigshake.
Then it was over.

We left pubwards, with a renewed sense of connection to each other, to nature, and perhaps to this greater thing called writing too. It was lovely to give a warm welcome to old faces and new, to make new connections and to revel in our love of words over tea, cake and soggy branches. Until the next ramble.

– Becca Magnus

We’re hoping to do more of these pop-up writing workshops, so keep your eyes peeled! Or, if you have any ideas for future events, get in touch.

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