Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Meanwhile, in another forest......

Inspirational 'pohanginapete', who obviously makes lots of other people (as well as me) think for themselves, has just triggered great thought-trains about forests.
This is his photograph of forest in New Zealand.

It's interesting, and I could see that I'd really like to be there and have a look around....but does it contain any of the elements that make Northern European forests so very important to Northern Europeans? Yet, interestingly, the photographs on the above link to his photographic blog do have that effect.

European forests are where people go for restoration and transformation. They lie deep and impenetrable in the European psyche, fuelled by traditional stories, and deeper, darker myths and legends, not to mention the depths of psycho-analysis.

Small children are abandoned in the forest by jealous and wicked adults, often step-mothers. There they learn to fend for themselves and to overcome evil (Babes in the Wood, Hansel and Gretel, Snow-White). Young girls face unspeakably awful dangers when they go off alone into the deep dark forests,( Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks - and what was Goldilocks up to anyway? She had no reason at all to be there, all alone. Perhaps it was plain willfulness. At least Little Red Riding Hood was sent there, to look after Grandma).

Northern European children emerge triumphant from these ordeals. They overcome the wicked adults, and the evil forces. They unite with the gentle influences; the small furry animals, the plants that protect them, the social outcasts, like the dwarves and gnomes.
Dangerous animals, bears and wolves, are outwitted or tamed, or frightened into submission. A spell of time in the forest, the experience of being lost, frightened, alone, seems to be an essential rite of passage in childhood fantasy. Facing the darkness, facing the wolves, conquering the ill-intentioned adults and emerging wiser, prettier, stronger and more handsome seems an essential element in European childhood.
Russian children face even more terrifying dangers, probably because the forests were, and still are, limitless. There are witches behind every tree, and their appallingly ill-constructed houses can run about on chicken legs. There is even more magic, more transformation, to enable the children to return to Babushka and the bubbling samovar. Yet still the children triumph. Even if they die in the forest their little fragile bones will emit a silver glow which leads to the downfall of the greedy and the powerful who abandoned them there in the first place.

We tell our children these stories from their babyhood onwards. My older son used to say, 'Babes in the Wood!' as a form of explitive when he was three years old. I wonder now why I did it; why I fed them such terrifying images.
They loved it, that's why! The books, pictures and stories were so ubiquitous I could not have avoided them. Even at such an early age they knew that goodness and kindness could keep the darkness in its place, and that by the end of the story the forest would be within manageable proportions.

We go into the forest with suitable caution. It supplies our needs. It gives food and shelter. It may provide companionship. Every week there are programmes on television showing survival techniques. Even 'extreme' survival techniques, which involve falling into frozen ponds and eating things scraped off dead logs. It's important to know. Just in case.....
The forest is never far away.

This antipodean forest is very far away. It looks as if it might be warm and friendly, full of curious creatures that bumble about harmlessly in a Disneyish way.
Is it full of magic and mystery? I really hope so. I hope it's a truly terrifyingly magical place.

Friday, 6 February 2009

The White Stuff

Some white stuff swirls out of a leaden sky, and our little lives change.

To be fair, we haven't seen so much white stuff for over twenty years, so we are excited, frightened, anxious, angry, delighted, appalled and enchanted.

Schools close, public transport systems collapse. There is panic buying of bread, milk, loo rolls, and anything else that might possibly be in short supply. The airports are closed.....there will be no more strawberries from Morocco for several days. How will we manage?

We managed initially by panicking as soon as the severe weather warnings were heard. I called in at the largest local supermarket on Wednesday, and thought I was having a really Senior Moment and that it must be Christmas Eve. The massive car-park was full, and people were staggering around with trollies full of milk containers by the gallon. Every cash desk had a queue of at least ten people.
Then we managed by chatting to each other in the queues. We were all shocked but amused by everyone else's trolley-load. We, of course, were just buying a few essentials which we had planned to buy anyway. We'd just added a few extra items to be on the safe side.

Overnight the snow came, just as we had been told it would. But it still took us all by surprise.
It was quiet.
It was light.
It was beautiful.
Those of us who ventured out smiled at each other, and wished each other well, admiring our mutual bravery. Children, even adolescents, who had never experienced snow were having a wonderful time, playing, like children used to do.
The dog tried to eat it.

Now we have relaxed into our Nordic life-style. We have found the ski-poles and the toboggans and tipped the spiders out of the snow-boots.
We are being really nice to one another, united in this rare experience; thinking of one another, being kind.

By tomorrow the white stuff will be khaki slush and we'll all be moaning again. Only a few more days and we'll be eating Moroccan strawberries.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Mighty Shogun

Here he is, the mighty Shogun. No, he's not mine, and no, he's not ET's little brother. He's a 'Chinese Crested dog' and he belongs to my Polish friend, Ewa, who took this beautiful portrait of him.

I've been thinking of Shogun, with the realisation that his name may have the ring of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Japanese Shogun was a Commander of the Armies, a person of tremendous power and influence. However, the title also implied that the office was temporary. The name also meant, 'office in a tent'. Temporary. Could be removed or even collapse in an instant.
Thus it has been for Shogun.

When I first met him, last summer, he was making free around his Polish estate. Extensive grounds, large country house, a pack of other dogs to boss around. Shogun was leader of the pack, even if some of the pack members were considerably larger. Shogun could shriek for Poland if anyone or anything threatened him - and he did so, frequently.
He ruled his estate with authority - first through the dog-flap, first pick of the food. He had a choice of homes to visit, with a meal in every one. He kept his figure trim though, by burning up so much energy in the control of the rest of the pack, human and animal.

Shogun's tent collapsed.
With no warning or consultation he was put in a travel crate and taken to live in America.
He encountered a skunk.
He has only one home to control, one meal-dish to sample (unless he's stealing the cat's food, which he probably is). His pack is drastically reduced, his power likewise.

The no-longer-mighty Shogun.
Life will never be the same again.
Be careful what you call your dog!