“My Amazing Journey”

Documenting my experience of Mother’s day Sun 6th March and Tues. 8th International Women’s Day is not an easy task and I feel overawed with the task of doing so. My son Michael who invited me to be part of the events in Macroom asked me to write about my experience, so here goes.

As I waited for my son to collect me, I layered on warm clothing, searching for my wellies and grabbing a brolly to do combat with the heavy drizzle that falling. I remember thinking to myself, “I need to be certified even contemplating going out on such a horrible day.” Mother’s day too at that. The sky was dark, threatening to dampen weather prospects even more. Stuffing sandwiches, fruit and water into a bag, I was ready to go.
My son duly arrived and we picked up an Italian man on our way. I immediately felt at ease as he spoke of climate change and his love of the natural world. We duly arrived in Macroom and I was introduced to Mr. Ted Cook who was to be our guide and mentor for the next few hours. On first sight Ted Cook seemed a very unassuming man belying the fount of knowledge contained within the man himself. We were joined by other like minded people both young and old as heavy mist threatened to enshroud us. Mr Cook began what for me became an amazing journey of heart and mind. Speaking eloquently he reeled off dates and historical facts with seemingly little effort.
The market town of Co. Cork, Macroom is located in a valley, which can be found on the River Sulllane, being a tributary of the River Lee which flows between Cork and Killarney. Macroom is an Anglicised name from an Irish Gaelic,Maigh Chromtha, which means crooked plain, being named after the large oaks which were abundant in the town square at the time. In Cromwellian times the castle was fortified by trees planted to both protect the inhabitants of the castle and to give cover and protection in inclement weather.

Macroom Castle Demesne

As we moved from the Castle, making our way into the castle grounds towards a wooded area, we stopped continually, listening to the history of trees, from Elms, Silver Birches, Downey Birches, Oak trees, Eucalyptus, mentioning what ones I can remember. We were all spell bound, being drawn into a web of wonder and delight soaking up every word from this enchanting man who exuded a sense of wonder and delight and a deep seated love and reverence of the natural world. He had great reverence for the Majestic Oak. The growth of Oak trees depends on the species. Oaks can be classified as deciduous or evergreen and grow at very slow or quiet rapid paces. Oak trees need optimal growing conditions and proper care to reach their maximum height if grown in captivity, preferring sunny sites, growing best in acidic soils that are well drained . Oaks can be vulnerable to excess moisture because of their thin roots. Most Oaks can take decades to achieve maximum heights.

Measuring a Turkey Oak to determine its life cycle

Some trees were shrouded in ivy which protected them against harsh elements, the ivy being able to withstand harsh weather conditions and even the heat of the sun. The ivy would naturally attach itself to a tree that needed protection. We also came across a green mossy substance attached to some trees which were called likens, also serving to protect the trees and serving birds as a durable ingredient for nest building. Nettles were a vital part of the wildlife food chain supporting over 40 species of wildlife. It’s sting has allowed a relationship with numerous insects to develop. So effective are they that few grazers with the exception of goats or hungry sheep will touch nettles when the stings are active.Insects can also move between the spines without activating the sting. In late summer the huge quantity of seed produced provide a food source for many of our seed eating birds. Nettles can also be used for many medicinal purposes and is highly nutritious as part of a healthy diet. The common briar is also a very important part of wildlife in that moths feed from it while bats feed from moths. Bracken on the ground is also integral to the health of trees decaying into the ground providing rich nutrients necessary for tress to survive.

Trees may look like they stand on their own being self sufficient but are interlinked with the trees around them and actually are part of a complex underground network of roots and different kinds of bacteria developed by growing and dying trees. Trees are so interlinked with each other, that they would know their 9th cousin.
We walked on, the sound of squelching footwear and broken bracken audible underfoot. The mist was teeming down relentlessly but no one seemed to care or notice. Some of the men were carrying trees to be planted. We approached a wood that Mr Cook was developing. Numerous year old trees were apparent and marked by canes to identify them and protect from damage. A rabbit guard was also fixed to the bottom of each tree set about half way up to prevent rabbits doing damage to same.
 The planting was done meticulously with great reverence to the ritual of planting. Sites for further planting were sourced, great care being given to preparation of soil. We learnt that young tree seedlings have a natural tendency to face south and all trees were checked for south facing sunlight and planted in this fashion. We learnt that when digging the earth for planting not to remove the earth but to break it up diligently with a spade removing any Citrus Root. Stones in the ground around tree plants were an integral part of the planting process, providing drainage, minerals and retained heat thus contributing to the health and well-being of trees and plants. I recalled in my mind’s eye gardening programs I had seen over the years. Every gardener dug out a hole for planting mounting the earth to one side, placing in plant or tree and vigorously patting the ground around same to bed it in.
 The process continued with a red bag being produced by one of the men containing seaweed dust. This dust was sprinkled liberally and folded into the earth a number of times with great care and vigilance to the planting process. My heart was singing and everything seemed to take on a magical appearance with the seaweed dust appearing to me to be fairy dust. Mr Cook explained the reason for sprinkling the seaweed dust was to bring up the PH content of the soil, around 6.5 bringing about a balance between the acidic and alkaline level. The final task was to spread bark around the bedded tree avoiding mixing it with the freshly dug earth as it would affect the nitrogen content of the soil. The ritual was completed with the youngest people there two young children being asked to walk around the tree to compress the bark into the soil. Numerous photographs were taken at different stages of planting and I felt very privileged to be part of something very special. Everyone got a turn to plant a tree.

We also saw Silver Birch, being monosidious, meaning both male and female , the male part of the tree had begun to sprout and would come into flower after the full moon. This moons impact on the growth of nature further enhanced the magical experience for me.
Mr Cook explained that that the male and female parts of the tree would take it in turns to grow and the growing process would not be active at the same time. We were also shown another type of Birch referred to as a Downey Birch because of a furry brown coating covering the branches of the tree.
 Mr Cook referred to Rudolf Steiner, a man who studied the effects of the moon and how it impacts and served natures growth. Rudolf Steiner was the founder of the astrophysical movement, which sees a correlation between science, nature, universal laws and spiritual concerns. He established a relationship between the elements of earth, air, fire, or water that corresponds to specific parts of the plants. Earth corresponds to root, water to leaf growth, fire to seed production, and air corresponds to flowers. Hence when planting crops for their fleshy roots you would plant them to an earth sign and so forth. Isaac Newton would also have been fundamental in developing this phenomenon. He established the laws of gravity which proves the tides are affected by the gravitational pull of the moon. The pull of the moon is stronger than the sun because even though sun is larger, the moon is closer to the earth. The strongest effect is felt when the moon and sun pull the opposite sides of the earth, at the full moon phase, although it also creates high tides when they are on the same side ( at the new moon) as well. These same forces affect the water content of the soil, creating more moisture in the soil at the time of the of the new and full moon. This increased moisture encourages the seeds to sprout and grow. The old time gardeners say, With the waxing of the moon, the earth exhales. When the sap in the plants rise, the force first goes into the growth above ground. Thus, you should do all activities with plants that bear fruit above the ground during a waxing moon. With the waxing moon, the earth inhales. Then, the sap primarily goes down towards the roots. Thus, the waning moon is a good time for pruning, multiplying, fertilizing, watering, harvesting and controlling parasites and weeds. In primitive societies it is notable that people were very tuned into nature, hunters and gatherers . They were very much in tune with the natural elements, using herbs and natural remedies to cure many ills. Crops were set and reaped with due reverence to the elements and they knew innately how to read signs for good and bad weather.

I continued my amazing journey again on Tuesday 8th March which was International women’s day. We went to the library in Macroom where Mr Cook was imparting his knowledge of the natural world to a very enthused crowd. He spoke of Jermaine Greer, a feminist, the four elements, and the 5th province, Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland is a staunch supporter of Climate Change Action and the threat it poses to the natural world. In her inaugural speech as President of Ireland Mrs Robinson made reference to the 5th province, which is ,The Realm of the Heart. The 5th province is not anywhere here or there ,north or south, east or west. It is a space within each of us — that place that is open to the other, that swinging door which allows us to venture out and others to venture in. While Tara was the political centre of Ireland, tradition has it that this Fifth Province acted as a second centre, a necessary balance. Mary Robinson is quoted as saying, If I am a symbol of anything I would like to be a symbol of this reconciling and healing Fifth Province.

Mr. Cook also spoke of the sloe being an elder berry and the granny of the woods. He was truly amazing , akin to a walking encyclopaedia, knowledge just seemed to flow effortlessly from him . He kept repeating throughout the course of the day how important the breath is, the breath of life and how most people only become aware of their breath when death comes. He also made numerous references to the unconsciousness of man and how this would be a determining factor in destroying the natural world.
 As humans we are meant to be cognisant of nature and it’s wonders and work to preserve and enjoy it. Trees are endemic to our survival giving out oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide. We retraced our steps of the Sunday before and set about setting more trees. We each in turn got a chance to set a tree. Every woman in the group was presented with a tree from Mr. Cook in recognition of International Women’s day. He also stated that women and trees have a common bond in that they both give birth.

In contemporary times, globalisation and industrialisation has contributed to huge economic gains especially in the West where capitalism is seen as evolution. Capitalism and consumerism has evolved dramatically at the detriment of our forests and natural resources. Chemical fumes, industrial fumes from industry and car fumes along with river pollution has decimated our natural resources and even the air we breathe. Humans are fast losing touch with their own spirit. Concrete jungles with allocated green areas are applauded by society and seen as the way forward. Humans are adapting to sterile environments that do little for the soul. Climate change is reflecting the reality of man’s unconsciousness in relation to the natural world and will surely mean disaster for future generations unless we all wake up. Mr Cook is bringing about significant awareness of the threat to life as we know it on our planet Earth. We must each in our own way do our best to bring about awareness and hopefully cause a ripple effect. I can truly say that Sunday March 6th was the best Mother’s day I ever enjoyed and heartfelt thanks to my son Michael for his wonderful gift. This is Saturday night March 12th as I write up my account of the amazing journey I have begun. I look forward with great expectation for another chapter to unfold as I continue my journey on tomorrow Sunday.

Written by Anne Gobinet Harrington.