Beuysterous decided March should be Tree Play Month. It was all about getting out to find new ways (or rediscover old ways) of playing in trees and woods. We asked you to invent games and make playful artworks, showing that you don’t need to clear the land of trees to play outdoors.
Most of the sharing was on the Facebook event page (not through choice but through a sort of social gravitation). It wasn’t as lively as Tree Love Week, coming as it did, hard on its heels. The main reason for its quietness was the coldness. It has been the coldest March since records began as global warming caused Arctic weather to get stuck with us. Snow drifts smothered lambs across the North. People hunkered down indoors looking out over their frozen gardens. The only people going out in trees were dog walkers and tree surgeons. A few people shared photos from their shivery walks and occasional tree climbing, but no new inventions of games for trees. So, let’s see Tree Play Month as heralding a life of tree play and creativity for some of you. (Please share your ideas for new ways of tree play in the comments below.)
Despite that, there was inspiration:
At Alexandra Palace this Easter, the Great Big Tree Climbing Company are holding a tree play weekend. Another organisation (non-profit) is Monkey Do, specialise in creating risky fun tree play structures.
The Mayor of London announced a scheme to create 100 new or enhanced ‘pocket parks’ (which may or may not involve the planting of trees, or the laying down of more concrete, we’ll see.)
More tree climbing in Seven Dials, in Brighton, by people sitting high up in an elm tree to save it from the chop to widen a road. On a sadder note, Owly Al, shared an ode to an oak tree they’d been playing in that had to be cut down to make way for the new Combe Haven road, supported by East Sussex County Council. Yattendon school in Horley decided to fell some ancient oaks in their playground, without consultation, in order to ease the sale of the land. While these public organisations were allowing the destruction of woodlands, DEFRA was playing along with the impression that it’s a great protector of trees by holding a Tweetathon with the hashtag #loveourforests. Two days later it was the UN’s new International Day of Forests.
We heard a lot about the benefits of being out in trees, for everyone’s health and for children’s learning and wellbeing in particular. I started reading Richard Louv’s ‘Last Child in the Woods’ – saving our children from nature deficit disorder. We heard about a new project called Rewilding Childhood, a campaign led by nature photographers and film makers. David Bond, the founder of Project Wild Thing, talked about how some South London children changed their minds about being out in nature. He reported: “When discussing nature in the classroom the pupils did not have anything good to say about being outside. But when we went out into some green space nearby, they instinctively found fun things to do.” William Giraldi echoed this with more elegaic thoughts about his own natural childhood compared to the lack of nature in his child’s life. He quotes Rachel Carson: “Only as a child’s awareness and reverence for the wholeness of life are developed can his humanity to his own kind reach its full development.”
Back to Project Wild Thing, some of us took its pledge to spend more time outdoors to set a good example to children. But then shivered in the cold and wondered how to re-engineer our lives to achieve it. I needed inspiration: There was this video poem by Holly McNish about the pleasures of camping and playing out in woods. And then a project I’m involved in with Holly McNish called Spacemakers, involved a group of young people making a building with salvaged materials from scratch in their school’s wood, at Comberton Village College. I was struck by how much they enjoyed being outdoors all day, compared to previous indoor activities, and having complete freedom to create their building without fixed outcomes or plans.
There was a lot of creativity: Joe Gregory, a willow weaver from Todmorden, created some willow forest insects to place in the woods and surprise people. Jude Cowan Montague got out to do a series of watercolours on London trees. This painting which is also growing trees by Valerie Hegarty is intriguing. At Kew Gardens, David Nash has created sculptures from the ‘tree quarry’ of dead trees, which can be visited until mid April.
We heard the Arbonauts are developing The Desire Machine, which promises to be something graceful and extraordinary involving some…arbonautics.
Persephone Pearl performed Tree Story, an aerial performance about trees, mychorrizae and badgers as part of the Brighton Festival.
The Woodland Trust is supporting creativity with a Living Woods photography competition. One of the four categories is Nature’s Playground for budding photographers under 14 – “capture your wild adventures and exciting discoveries out in the woods…secret hiding places…simply show us how you, your friends and family enjoy playing in the woods”. (Deadline 31st July)
And finally, two pieces of writing that are playful and about our connection with trees:
If the Trees Could Speak by Andreas Kornevall
Tree is Me by Owly Al