Rhythms Of Our Living

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Outside the offices of the “Plantlife” in the British Museum of Natural History, there is a slice of the diameter of an ancient redwood from California. There are little white labels from the centre circles outwards, these labels signify key periods of history. They extend from Colmcille’s arrival in Iona in the seventeenth century, through the middle ages, the Renaissance, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and to the world wars of the twentieth century. It is a daunting image: a great tree which has breathed the air and atmosphere of at least 12 centuries. Its patient memory rings grow slowly and generously enough to encircle one century after another.

Landscape holds out against transience. While days, years and individuals disappear, it remains. When its surface grasses and leaves die, they fall back into it. It receives the remains of dead individuals too; long before it takes their bodies, it has been receiving their lives.

The life of a person does not remain hermetically sealed inside one’s skin. Skin itself is porous; and the senses are great pores which let self and creation mingle. As the great outside, landscape quietly absorbs the tones, textures and rhythms of our living. In a sense its final embrace of our flesh brings it no surprises.

— John O’Donohue, Four Elements (pp 140-141)

Image: Sequoia cross section, 2008. Natural History Museum, London.
Image source: Cathedral Grove.

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