The Greatest Outdoors

Month: July 2020

Once upon a time…

Little Red Riding Hood - Lefft ☆ Paddy Donnelly
Paddy Donnelly, Red Rding Hood

The forests of the fairy tale, and these are the fairy tales we get from the Germanic tradition, the Brothers Grimm, were collected at a time when the folk and oral traditions were dying out. The brothers, like many intellectuals of the day, were inspired to collect the tales which they regarded as a ‘pure’ form of culture; in this they were not unlike Wordsworth and Coleridge, who wrote the Lyrical Ballards which were a reaction against the highly-stylised poetry of Pope, Spencer, etc.

These young writers and academics were sickened by the corruption of the elite and yearned for a time when people could return to a ‘simpler life’. Nothing ever changes right? So they thought that they would go around to record the stories of the ‘folk’ – hence the name, folktales.

This was not just an act of nostalgia, but revolution. The Romantics – think Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi – were now experiencing the fervour of rebellion against their aristocratic overlords, and these stories were meant to show that these simple tales were just as relevant as the ‘high culture’ which were enjoyed by the upper classes and capture that deep indigenous knowledge.

Yeats and other Irish artists did the same thing and for the same reason – which is just as well, as many of the Irish myths and legends were recorded by them before they disappeared for good.

Hansel and Gretel Illustrations – Charlotte Steel
Charlotte Steel, Hansel and Gretel

The fairy tales the brothers collected had been knocking about for centuries and it has now been verified that they are one of our oldest myths and stories. They are in fact so old that the characters in them are NOT real people but archetypes. An archetype is a symbol of a quality which lies inside all of us. So the dragon, king, queen, princess, etc they all operate on a symbolic level and they all live within.

Children, of course, understand this. Children do not take these stories literally and it is the job of adults not to take them literally. They know that the thrill and the delight, but also the safety, of the encounters with the Big Bad Wolf. The Big Bad Wolf is not out there, it is inside each of us, as Angela Carter’s wonderful interpretation of the ‘Red Riding Hood’ story shows – being ‘hairy on the inside’.

The wicked stepmother is not a real person, but an expression of antipathy – the antipathy we need to go out into the world, sometimes forced out – to learn something. To struggle. We then make our way back home, to the Father, the home – reunited, but changed. And where is the Mother? Like the Earth, the Mother is the element which invisibly journeys with us, that holds us.

But because they are also archetypes, all of these are found inside each and every one of us.

Perimenopause and her Forgotten Archetype - Rachael Crow
The four seasons, the female archetypes

Thus, when we tell stories to children, especially fairy tales, we are introducing them to an age old form of the narrative. One where there is peril and danger, the breaking of bonds, casting out into the wilderness, battle and struggle, fortitude and courage, overcoming and finally evolution and change.

That is the power of the story.

So fairy tales do many complex things in a very efficient amount of time. This is why they work so beautifully. They are like pebbles, well worn by time into beautiful pieces of art. Of course we don’t do something as silly as tell children why we tell them this or over explain anything. There is no need to.

Children simply receive the story as it is in order to interpret it for their own age. And you can be sure that it isn’t the age which you or I were born in. They figure out the meaning for themselves. They have to. Just as the children in the fairy tales battle their way out of the murk.

That is the beauty of the fairy tale.

Coniferous Forests as Bird Habitats

What inspired this post? Well, today we were scouting Hillsbrough Forest and because it used to be a commercial forest, there were deciduous as well as coniferous trees. (Oddly there weren’t very many native woodland trees, but no matter.) The contrast between the two types of forests is always startling.

The light and life in a deciduous forest which loses its leaves annually is in sharp contrast to the dark tall coniferous trees which keep theirs. The straight, narrow fast-growing trees which make them so commercially attractive crowd together to shut out the light and it is in THESE forests – think of the Black Forests 0f Germany – which these stories take place.

The trees all look alike, their uniformity is unending and if you do not know your way around, you could, like babes in the woods, get lost. In many ways, that is a metaphor for life.

During many Forest School sessions, I have sat in both kinds of forests and told stories, and always those stories mean a little more than they would in the comfort and safety of being tucked up nicely in bed. Forest School brings the immediacy of the habitat, the unhemlich nature of the place, where the whispering wind through the leaves, the rustlings and sussurations, murmurings and stirrings, lend themselves to the telling of the tale.

We tell stories in Elements because stories are what give our lives meaning. They inspire us, keep as as warm as campfire glows, lend us courage when we need it most. These are the thoughts behind the stories we tell. I thought it would be nice to capture them on a page.

Stephanie Sim

78 Best Mother Holle Illustrations images in 2020 | Holle, Fairy ...
Mother Holle

Have you seen this bird yet?

Swift - Wikipedia

You have most probably heard them rather than seen them. They are called the Swift and they spend all their lives in the air.

The Swift’s Latin name is Apus Apus, which means without feet. This is because their feet are so crippled that they can barely use them. They are the ultimate bird as they barely spend any time on land or sea.

They spend all their lives in the air and only come down to breed.

They fly all the way from sub-Saharan Africa and nest in either cliff ledges and caves or the eaves of roofs.

You can tell they are Swifts by how they scream as they fly. They are also known as Devil Bird because of this. Swifts make nest from their saliva. This saliva is harvested in countries like Indonesia. The industry is so huge that there are giant warehouses which house the swifts. The nests are sold for their weight in gold. They are eaten as a dessert or drunk for medicine.

You too can make a kite and fly like a swift!

Kites - Bird | Teaching Resources

Or you could get a map out to see where they come from. See how many countries Swift must fly across to get here? Can you name them?

Here are three cool swift facts:

  • They fly sleeping – half of their brain is asleep when they fly!
  • They eat flying – they catch insects! This is why places which have lots of insects are great for swifts. They are often found flying above trees! They don’t like flying too near the ground or they could get grounded
  • If the swift is grounded it cannot fly! To save it you must pick it up and throw it into the air! Isn’t that amazing.

Things you can do for Swifts

  • Make sure you leave your eaves unblocked if you have Swifts that visit. They are site faithful and return to the same place each year
  • Plant a wildlife garden
  • Write to your MLA/MP and ask them to make sure that they have a good policy to look after our heritage buildings and wildlife

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