Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: David Chatton Barker

9th January 2019

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings in which our contributors and friends consider the events that’ve shaped the past twelve months. As we begin the new year, David Chatton Barker looks back on 2018:

The year began with a month long routine of cold water immersion in a nearby mill pond, these days used as a watering hole for horses and sheep, and occasionally fished. I would enter these waters as if willed by some spirit unknown and there were days when I would have to break through the ice, breathless but more connected. This thrilling ritual was put to an end by a local farmer who warned against my returning (I have been in once since).

I’ve been living for two years in the shadow of the noble Brown Wardle Hill, one thousand feet above sea level on the South Pennine Moors, in an 18C farmhouse which stands upon an ancient well. I walk these moors, guided by desire lines, old trackways and my own signature which is slowly becoming embedded into moss, grass and rush day by day, step by step. Mesolithic hunter gatherers left traces, they say more traces than anywhere else in Northern Europe. I’m in the right place then. I stand upon this boggy question mark into my origins as a human being, our shared collective past. I search for portals, ways through, liminal states in which to grasp firmly the intangible. That I walk these same tracks is immensely exciting and emotional, I hold out my hand. They reveal themselves to me, resonate deeply and I become more bound up within it. Work develops.

Long before now, human success in exploiting the natural environment led to its exhaustion. Once densely populated by forest this landscape now stands exposed, vulnerable and lost in timelessness. We planted 1500 native trees and hedgerows in spring this year, with many mucky hands helping. A gesture of goodwill to the earth mother, that we still believe and will act upon this belief. A portion of the trees were Rowan, these were planted as a sacred grove. We were propelled into action by a poster a friend made some years ago…

The Art of Magic project toured to six venues. A collaboration between Folklore Tapes and the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, the show explores folk magic and our ancient rite and will to create and through this act to bring about change in the world, close and far. Artists were asked to interpret object-less index cards from the museum’s archive, creating a new grouping of artefacts and improvised immersive sensory performances that remind us…magic is all around us so long as we need it.

The discovery of a local legend led me to adapt it into an audiobook for ageing children, attempting to evoke some of the mystery and wonder that I felt when listening to my audiobook cassettes as a child. The legend is based on a shape-shifting malevolent Naiad (female water spirit or nymph), who haunts the waters of a well found on the top of Brown Wardle Hill. A story that animates an aspect of the landscape can be an important way to understand and appreciate further where we live, for adults and children alike. The audio is narrated by a Lancashire dialect poet and features the local brass band and school choir.

The synchronistic nature of the fungi kingdom has always led me down new and unexpected pathways. This autumn brought about some new fungi friends who shared with me insightful ways of looking upon the world. It’s been great to see the many herbs return in the avant-garden, their innate ability to regenerate each year leaves me in a perpetual state of amazement. The Belladonna grew so vast this year I’m sure the local valley was influenced by it.