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Vandals by The Cubbington Pear Tree

Updated: May 13, 2021

The Cubbington Pear Tree
The Cubbington Pear Tree in its spring finery

The Cubbington Pear Tree was a 250 year old wild pear tree near the village Cubbington in Warwickshire. It was the second oldest wild pear tree in England and in 2015 was voted Tree of the Year. It was felled on October 20th 2020 as part of works associated with the building of the HS2 railway. I was in Leamington Spa a few days after the felling and sitting in my B&B that evening the following poem fell into my head fully formed.

The Vandals have come.

Scorched earth streaks across the land,

Killing culture, laying life low.

Old photos blacken and curl on funerary pyres

Still, life goes on, diminished.

We go on, progressing. Ha!

"T'wit, T'where" Owl asks.

But empty hearts truly do not know.

In ancient Greece the Muses were nine inspirational Goddesses who were considered to be the source of the knowledge embodied in poetry, lyric songs and myths. I don't write much poetry but the few poems I do write almost always appear virtually fully formed in my mind and this is perhaps the only experiential understanding I have of the Greek idea of the Muses.

The heretic scientist Rupert Sheldrake has put forward a field theory of mind in which our brains aren't the seat of consciousness but act more like a radio set that 'tunes in' to consciousness. Habitually we each tune in to the consciousness that is 'us' and Sheldrake suggests that spiritual practices can expand the range of consciousness to which we're able to tune in. He's also a proponent of panpsychism as a solution to the hard problem of consciousness. The so called hard problem concerns how consciousness could arise from unconscious matter and panpsychism 'solves' the problem by saying that all self-organising systems, from atomic particles to galaxies are in some way conscious.

I can combine these two ideas to give me a theory that explains the Greek concept of the Muse and why this poem might have appeared in my mind fully formed at the time and place it did. Panpsychism would suggest that the Cubbington Pear Tree had a consciousness of its own, a consciousness that in some way made it an individual, a consciousness that, I assume, would have grown with age. And Sheldrake's field theory of mind would suggest that that consciousness wasn't closed, that it was accessible to others. This sounds far fetched but its an understanding of the world that humans lived with until the advent of the scientific revolution of the 17th century and with which many people still live. Personally I've always had a sense of the world around me being alive, of trees as beings rather than timber and firewood and so I'm happy to ascribe authorship of the poem to The Cubbington Pear Tree - all I did was write it down.

While the above may seem a little far fetched to many, I think most people have had the experience of going for a walk in some woods and finding themselves calmer, perhaps their mood has lifted somewhat, or perhaps a solution to some nagging problem has come to mind. There actually lots of evidence for these effects: improved mental health as well as reductions in cortisol levels, a hormone related to stress are both results of regular exercise in woodland.

Qi-Gong among trees

It seems the ancient Chinese were well aware of these effects and took time to study them. According to the Daoist Nei-Gong teacher Damo Mitchell, almost every traditional school of Qi-Gong (one of the four branches of Chinese medicine) had practices that worked with trees. These practices were called Ping Heng Gong, meaning 'balancing and harmonising practice'. Within Daoist thought trees were seen as great conduits of Qi that existed between the poles of Heaven and Earth and so doing Qi-Gong in the presence of trees was understood to affect the energy of the body. Although these were adjunctive practices the systems were none the less quite highly developed and different species of trees were understood to affect the energies of the body and its organ systems in different ways. For instance practicing among birch trees was understood to purge pathogenic Qi from the body, while practicing with Oak was thought to strengthen the Liver, Kidneys and Spine. One day I'd really love to have the time to really research these practices and their effects.

More prosaically it seems to me that whatever the reasons given, be they economic or possible reductions in CO2 emissions, they aren't sufficient to justify these acts of environmental vandalism. The economist Herman Daly who worked for the World Bank and who is considered the father of environmental economics coined the term 'illth' to describe situations in which the wealth supposedly generated by development was outweighed by the costs associated with social, environmental and other harms created by that development. But even that understanding is fairly linear. If one looks at these developments and the harm associated with them through the lens of systems and complexity theory then the real costs become impossible to measure as the consequences cascade and ramify through the system in unpredictable ways. That's a long way to say we should be thinking in terms of longer time frames and applying the precautionary principle accordingly. What's been clear to me since I was a young child is that we can't destroy the world around us (for any reason) without eventually destroying ourselves as well.


Bruce Bell is a fully trained 5 Element Acupuncturist working in the Midsomer Norton / Radstock area, and also from a clinic on the edge of Bath.

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