The Landscape is Within Us

The Yar River

Near my home, at the meeting place between the rising slope of the downs and the water meadows of the River Yar, is a grove of black poplar trees. They have grown up out of the moist earth on the river margins. Flag iris, reeds and sedges flourish beneath them, a signal that the soil here is marshy and unpredictable. It feels a deeply secret place – a place not entirely accessible – its boggy centre demanding a respectful distance.

I discovered it first when walking the path up from the disused railway line that slices across the meander of the Yar. This path leads to the enigmatically named ancient farmstead of Kern, itself hidden by the undulations of the downs and once believed to have been owned by the Knights Templar. The path breaks away from the Yar’s course, its entrance flanked by alder and white willow, the going soft and yielding even in dry spells. After heavy and persistent rain, the path is more of a tributary, a channel of deep water making passage through to the grove inaccessible. This partial access only adds to the magical feel of the place, such opening and closing seeming to pulse with the life of the river, with the rhythms of the grove’s own inner nature. Like a tidal cave, its waters fill and recede; the core of its space a strange mixture of peace and danger. I am more aware here – than in any other place – that I must enter gently.

The saturated path opens out onto a clearing thick with ground elder. To the right is a path that leads to the reed beds; in summer the blue-black flight of iridescent banded demoiselles can be seen, the reed bed reaching the river bank, lush with pink comfrey, meadowsweet and balsam. To the left the path curves under ancient elder, bark soft as cork and deeply rutted, branches reaching low across the ground and arching above in coiled, sinuous forms, forcing one to bend and tunnel through. Past here you find yourself on the edge of the grove, entrance too uncertain to risk. At this point I always feel that the edges are as far a passage through as the spirit of this wonderful place will allow. Its centre feels to me like an inner sanctum and to sit in its presence, to feel my own boundaries blur and merge a little with its peace, is blessing enough.

It was the sound that first drew me to these beautiful trees, the voice of reed and poplar like the insistent whispering of a broken wave drawn back over loose pebbles. They visually articulate the wind’s eddies – its unpredictable shifts and turns – never letting it hide unseen in their branches but marking each movement by the tremble of stem and leaf. I have seen green woodpecker glide from tree to tree, and buzzards, circling low, patrolling the grove’s circumference.

Each of us knows when we encounter a ‘special’ place. Sites such as Chalice Well, Avebury andStonehengepossess a tangible ‘something’, a mixture of energies unique to that particular landscape, intensified by the energies and expectations that people continue to bring; at best there is an exchange between the soul of the land and the soul of the person, a moment of true relationship. Such moments are when we stop being tourists – mere consumers of place – and truly connect. As powerful and beautiful as these more well know sites can be, they do not draw me in quite the same way as those discovered in the intimacy of our own locale; ones that are returned to again and again, the roots of our own psyche gradually entwining with those already in the soil. We become a part of these local sacred places – as we recognise them, we too are recognised.

What makes a place special can be deeply personal to us, something in our inner landscape reflected back to us. These inner landscapes are as diverse and contrasting as the ones we encounter in the outer world, and our relationships with each differ. There are parts of our inner lives that are open, where air and light circulate more freely; equally there are places outside of us that we encounter that are as accessible, expansive and welcoming. What struck me about the poplar grove was that it spoke so powerfully of that space within all of us that is harder to reach; those hidden, tender places with firmer boundaries, where the ground is more uncertain; a place we enter with care, our footfalls soft and sensitive to the ground beneath. Such a place might be the site of our greatest wounds, bound in on all sides by thicket or thorn, waterlogged and potentially treacherous. And yet, as I sat silently in the extraordinary atmosphere of the poplar grove, I knew that such inner places could hold enormous healing potential. If we have the courage to negotiate this interior land on its own terms – just as we would hope to do in the natural world around us – taking the time and care to enter when called, we discover a place of beauty, depth and poignancy.

Something in me knows the nature of the poplar grove, recognising and resonating with its instinct for enclosure; its soft, watery centre. Perhaps we are never meant to fully re-enter the sites of our past pain, inner sanctums all their own that need a gentle approach and our loving care. Perhaps we can only venture so far into these places, sitting respectfully at their margins to listen and bare witness, to honour the experiences we have endured and survived, discovering our own deep wisdom in the song of leaf and breeze. The land outside is also the landscape within us. The illusion that we are separate from the natural world falls away as we build our own unique relationships with these special places; each, in their own way guiding us to the magical and sacred ground of our souls.

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