Award-winning illustrator of The Lost Words, and contributing author and illustrator of our book Letters to the Earth, Jackie Morris, writes a letter to the pilgrims who have embarked on a 500 mile walk from London to Glasgow, where they arrive in November in time for the next UN Climate Conference, COP26.
Letters to the Earth will be running workshops along the route for different communities to write and deliver their messages for a better future to the leaders of the world.
To follow and take part in the pilgrims' journey see here. And if you'd like to book us to bring a workshop to your community write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hear Jackie speak her Letter in the video, and read in full below..
In 2019 I was asked to write a ‘letter to the earth’. After some thought I chose to write about swallows. I love the shape of birds. They see the earth in such a different way to humans. And I love their language. Swallows, small jewels of the sky, their constant search for summer, they lift my heart.
The letter I wrote was as much a praise song to the wild as anything, and since that time the world, for humans, has changed so much. I found myself wondering what I might write in the light of my own experience of the last few months.
Meanwhile I watch the late summer families of swallows fledge and gather again for their journey south, hear their voices threading through the quiet sky.
It feels now, right now, that the need for change is more urgent. It feels that the world has offered humanity a lesson, and lessons have been learned. For some those lessons have been the powerful kindness and commitment of our health workers, kindness and care and empathy. Likewise those who have worked in shops, as teachers, neighbours who have cared to ensure vulnerable people weren’t left to cope alone. For others the lesson was one of greed and arrogance and how to profit most from a crisis. Many of us, including myself, have learned about loss and sorrow, the weight of love and the price of love.
During lockdown people began to discover their own neighbourhood. For many the world shrank, but also we began to understand the significance of a global problem, one that affected us all now, directly.
We live on such a small planet. This earth, our home, infinitesimally small in the universe, but still brim-full with life. If you stop, listen, you can hear it. And it is old. Older than time, steeped in deep-time, in which we humans have been alive for such a small fraction. And yet we have done so much that is harmful in that brief time.
I find it so hard, with all that is happening in the world today, to find the words of courage and hope. I’ll not list the things that feed the despair, from fire to flood to war and plague. It’s all in the news 24 hours a day. It is the hardest thing these days to hold on to hope, but it must be done. Those who have profited most from the exploitation of the earth are those who will continue to profit from our despair. There is no time now to give credence to those who say ‘it’s too late’, ‘we are doomed’, ‘what difference can I make’. To do so is to continue to fail.
If we are to make a change we need to listen, not simply, only, to the voices of humans, but to all life. The world is rich with many languages, only a few of which are human. We need to open our ears, open our minds, listen and learn, give rights to river, mountain, forest, fight for their protection with every talent you have, in whatever way you know best. We need to listen to our children, who understand that the value of creatures, habitat, cannot be measured in gold, that true economics is health, happiness. Open our minds to the rights of life, all life.
Not knowing what to write, how to write, I made instead a series of artefacts.
Seven stones, made in collaboration with the earth, deep time and the tide’s turning, the pull of the moon smoothing, eroding. Onto these I have painted, using a brush made from a pin feather of a woodcock, gold sizing then gold leaf, the shape of a labyrinth. It is an ancient symbol, one that represents many things, is found in human history in many stories, so many cultures. As such it is a symbol that unites. It also has echoes in the natural world. A labyrinth is a pathway, a journey, a puzzle, an enigma, meditation, intuition, a connection to our ancestors. There is only one pathway. The name ‘labyrinth’ is thought to derive from the word ‘Lydian’, from the double bladed axe.
Also, a book. Made again with a gold leaf labyrinth on the cover it is a book with two sides. The first side shows how to draw a labyrinth, talks of the seed, the path, connection. On the other side is a season song, painted in ink that has slept for almost two hundred years before being woken with water from the well of St Wita. The writing is made with the same ink and a pen that belonged to an artist who lived over a century ago. The book is part spell, part seed, part praise song, part prayer.
When I asked of myself what I wished to do in this letter to the earth I wrote, ‘if I could I would weave a spell of protection around you. But all I have is hope.’ These seven stones, this book, they carry my hopes.
Unlike a maze with its twists and turns, with a labyrinth there is only one choice; whether to walk the path, or not.
Walk well, friends, and as you walk listen. As you head north look to the skies for the swallows heading south on their own pilgrimage. For if you listen well, the swallows and the stones will tell you stories.
Thank you to Bethnal Green Nature Reserve Resident Artist Adelaide Bannerman who read out Jackie's Letter on Saturday 4th September 2021 to the group of pilgrims at Tower Hill, London, to give them Jackie's gifts and launch their journey...