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Alyson Hallet - The Stone Library

 

Alyson Hallett

The following extracts are taken from the numerous journals that I have kept over the years. They are purposefully disordered to reflect the unruly way in which my ideas and inspirations come to me. They offer a brief taste of my research and a brief glimpse into the great cauldron where they all thoughts and dreams and ideas cook away until they are ready to be drawn out in more distinct forms – whether as a poem, a stone with words carved into it, or a piece of cast glass.

The life of a region depends ultimately on its geologic substratum, for this sets up a chain-reaction which passes, determining their character, in turn through its streams and wells, its vegetation and the animal-life that feeds on this, and finally through the type of human being attracted to live there.  In a profound sense also the structure of its rocks gives rise to the psychic life of the land; granite, serpentine, slate, sandstone, limestone, chalk and the rest, have each their special personality dependant on the age in which they were laid down, each being co-existent with a special phase in the earth-spirit’s manifestation.

Ithell Colquhoun, The Living Stones

 

What a mysterious, unsubstantial business it is, writing poetry. After one finishes a poem which seems to work one says Ha Ha now I’ll write another because I know how to do it but it is not so. There is the silence before one just as difficult to disturb significantly as before. What one has learned is inadequate against the new silence presented.

W.S. Graham in a letter dated 8, Dec, 1972

 

So I was from a very early point on very familiar, much more familiar than people are nowadays, with the dead and the dying. I have always had at the back of my mind this notion that of course these people aren’t really gone, they just hover somewhere at the perimeter of our lives and keep coming in on brief visits.

W.G.Sebald, The Emergence of Memory

 

Thursday 27th May

"art is a sort of experimental station in which one tries out living"

John Cage

 

When things fall apart, when nothing appears to remain the same, when darkness descends, the flame still burns. Only by knowing this can we walk through tragedy and despair, joy and laughter and continue to walk. Many storms visit the ocean and although the ocean changes constantly it never loses the salt of itself. Even when it is sucked dry, crystals of salt remain: a memory of what it was and what might come to be again. And so it is with stone. Everyday my edges are changed by wind and rain and rivers. Everyday my molecules re-arrange to accommodate shifts in the earth's crust, the atmosphere's temperature. But even when I am no more than a handful of dust - and this day will come - that dust, every minute particle of it, is already on its way to forming a new shape. I can never remain the same, equally, what I am can never change. Knowing this I welcome the lash of a wave, a gull's biting beak, the trample of feet. Mine is the slowest migration of all: by staying in this one place I am carried all over the world.

 

Hózhó

What you strive for in this world is hózhó (beauty, balance, harmony). How you live, how you treat one another, the way you cook, how you arrange your home, how you live in your surroundings - in the Diné (Navajo) way this would be art and religion...your home and environment are your church, your place of prayers.

(Taken from All Roads Are Good)

 

Since I was a child I have collected stones.

Some of them have helped me make decisions about what to do with my life as if, in their antiquity, they also possessed keys to possible futures.

A few years ago I was driving through North Wales. We stopped for the night at the base of a mountain and pitched our tent in the far right-hand corner of a field where two rivers meet. Listening to the babble of water we watched a full moon rise between two distant hills. I slept well. As we were leaving the next morning I looked up at Cader Idris and said, 'one day I will come back here and climb this mountain alone'.

A year later, on a Wednesday afternoon in August, my maternal grandmother died. Instinctively I knew it was time to climb the mountain. After a few moments of fear - I had never climbed a mountain before and had no idea what it might involve - I hired a car, packed my bags, cancelled anything that needed cancelling and set off.

The foothills of Cader Idris are beautiful beyond reckoning. Ancient oak trees, fast, gurgling stream, light flickering through a thick canopy of leaves. The further I climbed the more Wales spread out behind me, a vast array of hills, lakes every imaginable shade of green. About half way up I came across a huge, quartz rock on the right hand side of the path. It seemed utterly out of place and I had no idea how it had come to be there. A couple of minutes later a man came alongside me. He happened to be a geologist and told me that the stone we were looking at was an erratic, a stone that had travelled across the land in a glacier.

In essence, a migrating stone.

I carried on to the top of the mountain and there, shrouded in thick cold mist and heralded by a flock of howling crows, I said farewell to my grandmother's spirit.

 

"If you could keep going deeper, you'd finally not be a person.....you'd be a blade of grass or ultimately perhaps a stone. And if a stone could speak, poetry would be its words."

Galway Kinnell

 

I have used some of the money from my Literature Award to join PEN, the international writer's organisation that supports writers who are imprisoned or exiled for writing things their governments do not approve of.

I have never pursued writing for money but for the love of truth and the love of struggling with a language that enables me to give voice to whatever truths I discover.

Today the silver birch in my back garden is dazzling in the wind and the sky is scudded with clouds. Not one hour passes by without me being grateful for the simple fact of being alive and being able to sit here, in my study, writing.

My first research trip is to Ian Hamilton Finlay's Little Sparta in Dunsyre, Scotland. I have wanted to visit his garden and to see his work of placing lettering in stone for a long time. On the plane journey from Bristol to Glasgow I am dismayed to read about the failure of the Earth Summit in Johannesburg. Whilst actively supporting all those who are already establishing change in their community, I cannot help thinking that we need to start looking at things differently. Despair may not be a useful tactic, but grief might. And so I propose an International Summit of Grieving. It will be an opportunity to chronicle all that we have lost and are losing through reckless and profit-led behaviours. Crying will be actively promoted. Keening positively encouraged. Maybe this will help us to wake up and to begin taking care of each other and the Earth we live upon.

Whilst flying above the cloud, quite low as we were coming in to land, I looked out the window. And there, on the cloud, was a shadow of the plane. All around it was a rainbow, a rainbow in a circle. In the centre of the circular rainbow was the white of the cloud and the shadow of the plane. As the plane descended, the shadow grew bigger and bigger and then we went through the cloud, through the whiteness to a new level where there was again a bank of cloud below. And on that cloud too, a shadow of the plane, small again, and circled by a rainbow.

 

"The poetic genius of my country found me at the plough - and she threw her inspiring mantle over me. She bade me sing the loves, the joys, the rural scenes and rural pleasures of my native soil, in my native tongue: I tuned my wild artless notes as she inspired."

Robert Burns

 

I took a small white stone in my pocket with me to Glasgow. I was staying in a friend's flat and on the third day there I realised I had lost the stone. I've never lost a stone before. This morning I scoured the floor, every pocket, under the cushions, under the sofa. It has gone to the place where lost stones go. I don't know where that is. The nature of lostness: something I can't retrieve.

 

Friday 5th September

The stone re-appeared. This morning it was there, sitting on the floor. It isn't white at all, but a subtler shade of green.

"The miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."

p50 Death Comes For The Archbishop, Willa Cather

 

Saturday 6th September

Little Sparta: One path led to another. One bridge led over a narrow waterway, another bridge led back. There were groves of trees, benches, all embellished with text, all specifically and beautifully sited. Every object was conversant with its environment and my eye continually drifted from the minutiae of a word to the wide sweep of the sky, the lilt of a hill then back to the rise of a stone arch.

I was entranced. To my left a lake, three black swans swilling the surface. I retreated to a bench and sat there for a while in the company of a dragonfly. It wasn't long before Ian Hamilton Finlay came and joined me. He gently encouraged the dragonfly on its way then sat down. We talked of broken hearts. I complained about Bristol being a place of myopic vision where profiteering came above most other things. The whole world's like that, he said. No, I disagreed, not this world here.

 

"All the noble
sentiments of my heart
all its most praiseworthy
impulses - I would give them
free reign in the midst of
this solitary wood."

Text written upon a plaque on a tree

Little Sparta

 

This morning I picked up a book that was given to me by a friend two years ago. It is a book as rich as the richest cake and I can only digest it in small portions at very irregular intervals. It is Creativity and Taoism by Chang Chung-yuan, a study of Chinese philosophy, art and poetry.

Can you concentrate on your breathing to reach harmony

And become as an innocent babe?

Can you clean the Dark Mirror within yourself

And make it of perfect purity?....

To achieve inner harmony Lao Tzu recommends breathing exercises for concentration and purification. The idea of the adoption of breathing exercises in order to attain to transcendental wisdom is referred to by Chuang Tzu as hsin chai or fasting mind. (p128 -129)

"In other words, the higher level of integration is obtained by freeing oneself from all confusion. This is what Lao Tzu calls "The Method of Losing." He says: "To search for knowledge is to gain day by day; to search for Tao is to lose day by day." (p131-132)

 

25th November

Cycling home from the university tonight I can see the things I am making in my mind's eye.

When I cease to try everything seems to happen of its own accord.

Things make themselves, they have their own life; I am the servant of my work rather than the master.

 

"When love and skill work together expect a masterpiece."

Ruskin

 

The gift economy: the more you give, the richer you are.

I want to give my work away.

I read today in a paper on Native American give-aways that the only thing the recipient of a gift can say is thank you. And what did Meister Eckhart say the greatest prayer any human could utter was? Thank you.

And so the circle turns and the further forward I think I am the more I am just turning round and round and so it goes.

The Earth's inner core has recently been discovered to have a core within its core which has been aptly named the Innermost Core. I can't help thinking that as soon as you find one thing and name it you necessarily displace a part of the very thing you are seeking to pin down - the elusive part of anything has to be there in order for it to survive and remain alive. I will surprised if, next year or the one after, we are informed that the Innermost Core actually contains another core and so on and so on ad infinitum.

The earth and myself are of one mind. The measure of the land and the measure of our bodies is the same....If I thought you were sent by the Creator, I might be induced to think you had a right to dispose of me. Do not misunderstand me, but understand me fully with reference to my affection for the land. I never said the land was mine to do with as I chose.

Chief Joseph

 

The dead like to be remembered and if we lose all the things they brought to life then we are in danger of losing our way. The opposite of remembering is not forgetting but dismembering; literally, the body being taken apart bit by bit.

If we do not remember, then a process of disintegration begins to take place and we are left with things and relationships that are incomprehensible to us, shapes that make no sense.

"The world and all it contained were the products of mind and bore everywhere the marks of mind. Matter was not something which had given birth to mind, but something which had formerly been mind. Something from which mind had been withdrawn, was quiescent, and out of which it might again be roused. This mind was visibly manifested in the so-called "living things" as plants, and..animals..This might come to the surface at any time, and it did so particularly to the fasting warrior, the knower, and the doctor. Indeed, the importance of these last two types of people lay in their ability to penetrate to the human life (or mind, I would say) within the mineral, plant, and animal life of nature and to bring back from that experience knowledge of value in ordering the lives of their fellow human beings.... Mind was recognized as everywhere of the same nature."

John Swanton

 

"You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandparents. So that they will respect the land, tell your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth. If you spit upon the ground, you spit upon yourselves. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being.

Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. The very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than to yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch."

Dwarmish Chief Se-as-th

 

An individual problem is always part of a bigger picture and can only be truly understood when considered in context.

A quote from the novel Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.

But you know, grandson, this world is fragile.

The word he chose to express "fragile" was filled with the intricacies of a continuing process, and with a strength inherent in spider webs woven across paths through sand hills where early in the morning the sun becomes entangled in each filament of web. (p.36)

For one and a half years I lived on the Isle of Iona and worked as Abbey housekeeper. Not unlike my junior school, which was built by Quakers on a mixture of spiritual belief, politics and social commitment, the Abbey was a great testimony to what can happen when you cease to separate all the different aspects of your life. Re-membering, literally, in a way that meant that worship, work and play were not things that were done at different times but things that were constantly and continuously informing one another.

This fusion never led to any sense of confusion - exactly the opposite in fact - it led to a clarity that infused my life with great energy and a sense of awe for the natural world around me.

 

19th March, 2003

I went off the path and deep into the trees. I sat there for a long time. Silent and watching. Sunlight iced the trees and leaves scuffled in the wind.

"The necessary thing is great, inner solitude. What goes on inwardly is worthy of your love."

Rainer Maria Rilke

Discussion with wardens of Leigh Woods re; becoming lost. What lost might mean; the fear that prevents people from doing this and the sense of freedom that accompanies solitude.

Erratics, and these stones that I am moving, do not have a fixed destination but are seeking a safe place in which to rest. In this respect they are not site specific, rather site nomadic and depend upon the hospitality that may or may not be offered to them. This raises questions about how we respond to a stranger in our midst: whether we offer trust or suspicion, hostility or welcome.

The stone's new home is beautiful - there are yews on either side and an oak behind it. It looks as if it has been there for centuries and this sense of rightness of place affirms the whole way in which this project has been conducted. It is strange to have worked for a year and now finally sited one piece of stone with seven words upon it, but at the same time this way of working feels absolutely right. A slow, deep process that results in one beautiful thing.

09/04

The notion that what I am inmbuing the stone with will resonate through the air - some people will catch it - the stones are filled with love and courage - these qualities will resonate throughout the world. I am planting seeds on holy ground, I am preparing fruit for a future I will not see.

"In the life of the Indian there was only one inevitable duty – the duty of prayer – the daily recognition of the Unseen and Eternal. His daily devotions were more necessary to him than daily food."

p36, Touch the Earth, compiled by T. C. McLuhen.