June Canvas

Light is in the ascendency: we’re at the midpoint of the year, when day stretches itself for hours, and night seldom feels dark. On the top of Whitbarrow Scar, at 8pm, the sun is still high. There’s plenty of light, and it’s warm.

We sit and watch the slow tracing of shadows as the sun descends, and ponder the words in front of us. Around us, almost every ash is struggling. They appear to be dying. Ash dieback is affecting ash trees across the country, and marching through woodlands here in Cumbria. Last summer’s heat and lack of rain – particularly up here where the limestone drains so quickly – hasn’t helped.

We talk about the positive and the negative around us. Right here, blackbirds sing, and there are stone chats adding their voices to the evening serenade, their calls like stones scraping stones. The limestone holds ferns and flowers in its grykes, and birch trees catch the breeze. We stray into talk of politics and populism; the rising voices calling for action to reduce human pressure on the planet; the felling of so many trees in the Amazon, movements across the world to plant more trees. Light and shade …

Over the course of the evening the ash tree to the left of the canvas adds temporary shadows to the white, like small statements about much bigger issues.

Like the other trees here, its leaf cover is scant. There is not a single full ash canopy – branches are empty, like fingers stripped of flesh. But the trees are trying to keep going: all the trees have burst into leaf at their bases, another attempt at life. There are countless new ash seedlings filled with the intention to grow, to seed, to multiply, but the chances are, they will not. The robin sings, the wind blows, the sun sinks slowly from its summer high point in the west, and while the ash die, the birch march on.

Harriet walking towards the canvas, seen from behind
Harriet walking towards the canvas, which is seen from behind. Crescent moon above.

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