Tag Archives: gaia

Gaia

13 Jun

Neried

photo credit: Alan Howden

Gaia was the name the ancient Greeks gave to the elemental Goddess of the Earth. She was the mother of Kronos – the God of Time. In 1979 the name was appropriated by the polymath James Lovelock to describe his novel idea that Earth herself behaved like a ‘living’ organism – capable of regulating her own climate through gross perturbation: Gaia, a new look at life on Earth.

In 1979 I was a final year student of Zoology – I thought James Lovelock’s book was sensational. The idea that the Earth’s biota (all living organisms on the planet), the chemistry of inorganic cycles and the physics of the atmosphere all powered by the sun, could form part of a gigantic coherent negative feedback system simply blew my mind.

Negative feedback, the basis of biology and life-chemistry expanded to encompass Earth.

We humans live within a constantly changing environment. Night and day,  cold and heat, moisture and dryness, from pole to pole through temperate climes to the tropics all these geographical locations exert significant physical changes on the organisms that live there. Vertebrate animals – particularly mammals, have developed efficient ways of regulating their internal environment to maintain the best working conditions for the proteins within their cells. Proteins – enzymes and structural molecules – require very narrow parameters of temperature, salt concentration, pH and so on to work at all, otherwise they become ‘denatured‘ (permanently damaged).

We call this cellular ‘fighting back against change’ Homeostasis:

“the maintenance of metabolic equilibrium within an animal by tendency to compensate for disrupting changes”

In March this year, with the help of Yorkshire Artspace I was given permission to set up my oak Ruskin Sculpture on the roof of Persistence Works in Sheffield and organise an artistic event with contemporary dancer, Simone Thompson and visual artist Robert Twigg (assisted by Will Armson). There was no script and no direction, just a bunch of creative humans having an open dialogue around a strange structure on a roof top.

I’d seen Simone perform at a street fayre in Sheffield in 2015 with her students and was struck by the energy and vitality she drew from her young students and her own wild, eclectic performance when she treated us too her own extemporised dance.

I guess I wanted to create a living substrate – in equilibrium – that would allow my talented friends to create something that was dynamic, rooted in the environment and celebrating life.

In searching for a title for the work I was reminded of the power of the Earth Goddess, and here she is:

To live in harmony with the Earth and with each other is the single greatest challenge of our age. If we don’t we will perish.

“Nature favours those organisms which leave the environment in better shape for their progeny to survive. James Lovelock”

 

Tread Lightly

15 Aug

It is only five months since I left my job as a Ranger working to conserve Sheffield’s lovely green spaces and yet I may as well never have been there. This does not make me feel sad at all. In fact I find it curiously liberating to know that all the work I did for Parks, Woodlands and Countryside, local school children, citizens and the landscape has already yielded to the ministrations of Mother Nature, the Green Man, Gaia or the Great Spirit – name it if you will.

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I came across this verdant patch of brambles and nettles today, replete with self set sycamore and dense vegetation in Chancet Wood, Sheffield.  I had kept it clear for ten years, by careful felling of sycamore, coppicing the hazel and strimming back the nettles and brambles every season. I used the wood regularly with local school children (Greenhill Primary) to explore wildlife, the changing seasons, green woodcraft, science and creepy crawlies.

Part of the Sheffield Round Walk, this lovely old wood leads walkers from the grander expanse of Beauchief Abbey and Parr Bank wood through Greenhill to Woodseats and Meadowhead to the splendid Graves Park. A cathedral of tall, drawn oak trees – some springing from ancient coppice stools march along the steep sided bank creating a peaceful respite from the busy city roads. Green and lesser spotted woodpecker, chiff chaff, Great Tit, badger, fox, myriad invertebrates (including some truly monster leeches in pools alongside the stream in the valley bottom) and lots of unusual fungi can be found in this urban green corridor – if you are quiet and prepared to visit very early in the day.

Today’s experience was a timely reminder of our transience. I build furniture and tools to outlast me, this is how I make, so why should I care that the woodland had forgotten my presence?

I think it is because despite trying to suppress my ego, I had forgotten how identified I was with my old job. To be a countryside or urban Ranger is, for all of us who have been privileged enough to be so appointed, a vocation. But is such a role sustainable in a climate of local government cuts and retrenchment?

The Wood will always adapt to human intervention – it will continue to just ‘be’ provided enough people care about it – it might even be able to ‘pay for itself’ to a degree with very careful practical management, limited timber extraction and partnership working.However, its true value cannot be measured. It is the very fact of its immanent ability to regenerate, grow over footpaths, wipe out our footprints that reminds us of our true nature. Hopefully there will always be Rangers working to protect, encourage, educate, show, care about The Woods and The Green.

Whether Rangers or Ramblers, Children or Pensioners, Chancet Wood belongs to all of us and … in the end, to no-one, because she belongs to herself.

Just like the lovely daughter (Polly) I had the honour to ‘give away’ to her handsome fiancé (Alan Howden) on Saturday August 4th.

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Let the dance of life begin……

Fi and the band Polly’s mum, Fiona (in blue) singing Sam Cooke’s “Don’t know much about History….”