“And to make an end is to make a beginning.” Little Gidding. T.S. Eliot

I measure time by my years on earth. I measure time by the restrictions of lockdown, trying to peer beyond the curves of confinement... I measure time by wondering what events I’ll live to see my grandchildren celebrate. I measure time by the Jewish calendar when the new year begins in the fall.

I wonder about time, how much I have remaining. I fear time, its inexorable passage. I love time, its endless twists and possibilities, the way it loops back and mushes together past and present. I’m awestruck by time, how it’s real though intangible. I move through time, calculating it via my daily rhythms. (How odd, that notion of moving through time.) Perhaps it’s a thin tissue of undulating threads, shifting with the winds of my temperament.

I beseech the gods of time, requesting more of their precious cargo.

It’s not original with me, though I cannot find the source of the idea that the present determines the past. But that is how I experience it. I’ve always lived beside the shadow of my mother, both when she was alive and after her death. Hers was not the kind of shadow under which I cowered in fear; rather, I was cautious about coming into the light. My mother was a fearful, uncertain person. Towards me, the eldest of her two daughters, she exhibited mainly impatience and anger, threatening to send me away if I didn’t behave. I was then, as I am now, a reactive, emotional, sensitive type. Intensely curious, I wanted to understand everything. She couldn’t deal with me. I asked too much. All my young years, I longed to burrow through her anger and find respite. Growing up, I gave up, replacing my longing to connect to her with the desire to stay away. And with the fervent hope not to emulate her in any way. Let me not behave nor look nor feel as she did. Her shadow pursued me, pushing me to be different, pulling me back into itself.

Years passed, as they do. (There’s that time thing again, moving, flowing, receding, expanding.) I look in the mirror and see the lines of her face etched in mine. I hear myself respond to my life partner in the voice she used with my father, angry, demanding. I recoil from others, unable to feel worthy of love as she didn’t teach me how to receive it. I remember my cruel indifference to her in her later years, and shrink from the possibility I’ll get what I gave her--nothing.

That’s the dark side, the scrim of memories made up of absent feelings. But now, I re-make the memories of my mother, changing our relationship. This occurs despite her having died years ago. Time, that strange mechanism, is at work. It’s elastic, magical shape-shifting meddling with what was fixed, changing it to a present narrative.

In the story now, I understand how difficult it was for her: the middle child of an overbearing Russian matriarch who shouted orders from her bed in the back room of our house. Marriage to a man with a depression which burdened them both. A demanding older daughter who was difficult to soothe. Relatives blaming her for her husband’s malaise. And yet she persevered, spending the last nine years of her life as a teacher’s aide. That was the pay-off; finally a classroom of her own, a dream realized. And that eldest daughter who forged a life of connection, that daughter now comprehends her mother’s sadness and finally, weeps for her.

Time not only heals wounds; sometimes it erases them.

Time is not linear, though it’s what we’re led to believe. One doesn’t go from point A to point B in a straight line. Days are round, not long. And time is not hierarchical, forcing us to look up to where ‘He’ is (and it’s always a he) at the top: father, god, ruler. We’re trained to look up instead of around; we’re told to keep our eyes on the prize, not on the person next to us on the bus. We’re instructed to conquer time and not waste it. Meanwhile, time flows all around us, pushing us towards memories past, re-making old truths, beckoning us to the present moment, merging us with that thing called space, and finally, calling us to enter into its eternal river.


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In 2017, I worked with the artist Wolfgang Buttress and physicist Martin Bencsik. Martin has developed various bioacoustic techniques. Using his accelerometers (ultra-sensitive vibrational sensors), we monitored the resonances of The Original Bramley, a famous tree in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. Our readings suggested that the frequency of the Southwell Bramley Apple Tree is 500hz.

Thus began The Significant Tree projects. Through 2018/19, I scanned and collected data from The Major Oak Tree and The Parliament Tree in Sherwood Forest; Newton’s Apple Tree in Woolsthorpe; and The Bunya Pine Tree in Queensland Australia.

In the studio, I created compositions and recordings using the fourteen forks tuned to the frequency of trees. I was shifting from the idea of seeing sound to the idea of feeling sound, focusing on the power of sound as it affects the human body.

Across the world, 2018-19 was a time of major climate catastrophe. Wildfires in California; the warmest June ever recorded in England and Scotland; fierce Atlantic hurricanes; raging floods. Climate change was ramping up, accelerating beyond control. Drawing upon my childhood in Somerset, I recalled church clock bells giving rhythm to my days. My first visit to Loughborough’s John Taylor Bell Foundry was in the early 90’s with my father. When I next visited the foundry in 2018, Mike Semkin, the engineering director, helped me create my first Significant Tree Bell. Bells are traditionally used to ring out warnings and tell us of danger. The bell became my next fascination.

The 320-year-old Sycamore tree where the Tolpuddle Martyrs met in 1833 is the symbolic birthplace of the Trade Unions movement in the UK. The National Trust looks after the tree. Drawn by its significance, I pondered the notion of ordinary people instigating a mass climate uprising, achieving the extraordinary and creating change. In March 2020, I was due to scan the Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree in Dorset, casting a bell based on the tree’s data. It was to be part of a publicly engaged event at the Bournemouth Arts Festival. Working with the public and a town crier, I’d arranged to exchange tree saplings for the public’s stories about their own significant trees. The town crier was to use the tree bell to ring out 'tree cries'. I was planning to write the tree cries, based on stories gathered from members of the public. Covid-19 struck and all was postponed.

Read the full feature in Profiles of Activists.

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When Emerging Voices added the feature, Conversations in Crisis, who would have foreseen a pandemic engulfing the world? But here we are, struggling to come to terms--individually and collectively, personally and socially--with Covid 19. Longing for an end to the crisis, we articulate hopes and fears through actions of all kinds. We search for creative ways to connect through the fog of uncertainty. We struggle to remember there are other crises to confront. Climate breakdown, we must not forget, is moving us closer to global disaster. There is no vaccine to restore melted ice caps.

October 2020 Zoomcast - with Rose Levinson and Paulo Hartmann, Catastrophes

Paulo Hartmann, (@paulo.hartmann@gmail.com) is a Brazilian based artist, musician and activist. Paulo, who resides in Sao Paulo was our guest on an Emerging Voices Zoom talk in October. It was a pleasure to connect with him, along with others from around the world. Sharing our responses to the global pandemic and talking about our changing world was a reassuring link. Paulo’s Zoom presentation offered an opportunity to consider how connected we all are, our local concerns reverberating across a shared planet. In a year in which wildfires, storms, hurricanes and floods continue to increase in strength and size, in which our governments are part of the problem, we need to find one another and forge a way forward. Thanks to Paulo for facilitating an opportunity for interrelatedness.

Continuing the conversation on Catastrophes

...Paulo Hartmann provided Emerging Voices with a message from the Yanomami and Ye'kwana people of Brazil that can be viewed here as part of his presentation on Catastrophes.

April 2020 Zoomcast - with Rose Levinson and Rachel Jacobs, On Climate and COVID-19

We’ve made some connections between the virus and climate breakdown, notably in a mid April Zoomcast. Here are excerpts from it, along with a few links.

0:00 - Introduction to the Zoom with Rose Levinson and Rachel Jacobs, On Climate and COVID-19, Being an artist in this moment in time.

4:15 - “On Planetary Health”

5:31 - “What is it we need to thrive?”

10:52 - Perspectives from São Paolo, Brazil

12:26 - “Uncertainty and the Climate Crisis”

13:34 - In Closing…

Continuing the conversation on the virus and on climate

...Rachel Jacobs writes of living on a narrowboat and the comfort this brings; she also updates readers on the artist project she and Frank Abbott designed to honour the blossoming of the cherry trees.

Subscribe (free and safe) to stay updated on the next Emerging Voices Zoomcast.

Additional Resources

Infographics: Planetary Health

As C&I Productivity Plummets, So Do CO2 Emissions

Lockdown has cut Britain's vibrations, seismologists find | Science

Ricardo: an analysis of Covid-19 lockdown on UK local air pollution

Coronavirus lockdown leading to drop in pollution across Europe

'The impossible has already happened': what coronavirus can teach us about hope

Where to land after the pandemic? A paper and now a platform

https://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_For ongoing articles on the Covid 19 crisis, including Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor: An Interview with Rob Nixon

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