from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 28 May 2012

love & death in the forest

The leat – or narrow canal – in the Forêt de Huelgoat fascinated me. It was murky-brandy-coloured in the way that Dartmoor streams are (due to the granite bedrock, maybe? Or the minerals that co-occur with lead and silver?), and the dark opacity seemed to add huge depth and subtlety to the surface colours. Shafts of sun slanting through beech and chestnut and oak lit it with a deep glow. I must have taken 70-odd photos of its surface, to TM's impatience.

Originally the leat channelled water 6kms or so from the Moulin de Chaos to drive the great wheel at the silver and lead mine in the forest. Now one of the two conduits peters out; the other has been diverted to power a hydro-electric scheme.

We followed a part of the leat the first evening, by accident, on our arrival, deep towards the dusky woodland heart. On our second day walking we picked up the leat on our return.

On our way out that day we followed the course of the main river, slightly higher up (I can't remember if this one is the Arquellen or the Argent – they both pass through the forest).

Leaving the wooden café, we headed off on Le Sentier des Amoureux, Lovers' Lane, with the river murmuring away below and to our right.

Just over the hill from us was the Iron Age Camp d'Arthus, of a type Julius Caesar mentioned in De Bello Gallico as typical of this area, of Gaul.

All was tranquil, sunny, birdsongy.

Then suddenly we were taken into death. A small granite plaque by the footpath alerted us to a monument just above us on the hillside commemorating three village men from the Resistance taken out and shot by the Nazis in this beautiful leafy place.

It's the more shocking because the monument is half-camouflaged by trees, and the plaque small and simple; without the latter you might not notice the stone. Undoubtedly, illogically, it has even more impact because the woods are so beautiful.

I can't help being aware of the incongruity, or poignancy, of the naming of this footpath with its shadow of executions as 'lovers' lane' – who knows which preceded which?

We're silent for a few minutes. I muse on the many connections between love and death. In this case, there was a direct correlate: love of freedom and homeland, and presumably of the people whose lives the resistance fighters were protecting. Commitment to a cause bigger than themselves, no matter what the cost.

I think about the words for 'love' in French, and for 'death': 'l'amour' and 'la mort' respectively.

I think about how the French call sex, or orgasm, 'la petit mort' – the way something of the separate ego dies in the moment, for the moment.

I think of how in order to truly love we have to be prepared to die over and over: to our old lives, to our resistances, to our negative habits and behaviours, to our selfishness, to our attachment to our separate selves and the dictates of ego.

I think of the canal: always and never the same; how a body of water in its changing still contains all the drops that make it up; how none is ever lost, but all lose or change their identity in the whole.

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