We Weave and Heft by the River is an all night, socially-engaged event facilitated by the Coastal Reading Group (Bibi Calderaro, Christos Galanis, & Margaretha Haughwout) that explores ways to grieve the tremendous loss of non-human species that are passing away and being actively killed during this specific historic, geologic, cultural moment in time. It premiered at the Landscape Language and Sublime Symposium and Creative Gathering at Schumacher College in Devon, England at the end of June 2016.
We traveled to Devon a week in advance of the symposium to get to know the land, some history of how the land has been engaged and to collect locally-sourced materials. We were interested in using local materials to think and co-create with as we sunk into spaces of appreciation, grief, honoring and reckoning.
It was interesting for us to do the project for the first time in England because of its intertwined history of colonization and the striking enclosure movements that rocked several centuries from the Middle Ages to Industrialization and the resultant deforestation and species loss that hit this rainy North Atlantic island. Colonization, it can be argued, requires firstly for the colonizers to colonize themselves; colonization happens most effectively when relationships to non-humans become hierarchical, sedentary, domesticated and where there are ongoing scarcity models of cohabitation. We might look to Deborah Bird Rose for inspiration:
“… it may not matter whether horse or man wins, or whether the man is settler or indigenous; what matters is that they perform together their intersubjective, countermodern, embodied and dangerous collaboration. As we hold our breath and clench our hands we can find ourselves increasingly excited at the thought that maybe, perhaps, civilisation will not win, ever.”
For the week leading up to our grief event, we were compelled to collect sheep’s wool as a way of considering how this animal has had a direct relationship to the transformation of England. We visited craftspeople throughout the shire, and finally came to meet the artist and shepherd Terri Howland in Bovey Tracey. She taught us how to spin wool by hand:
We wanted to choose seeds that were relevant in some way to the English landscape. We traveled to many nurseries in the area, some very old such as the Hillhouse Nursery in Landscove:
We settled on Red Corn Poppy, Blue Cornflower, and Red Clover. We rolled these seeds into “seed beads” of red clay (that echoed the red clay beneath our feet) and compost. Seed beads are like seed balls, but pierced; we strung and wove them into a co-created object the night of our event.
We identified and collected many different plant materials throughout the week, plants that had a direct history with enclosure such as Hawthorn and Elder, sacred plants that are and were used in earth-based spiritual practices such as Elder, Alder, Mugwort and Yarrow, medicinal plants such as Magnolia and Nettle seed.
All week we walked the hills and dales during daylight hours, and at night, being from the Americas, we thought about how strange it was to not need to listen for predators outside our tents.