RAKESPROGRESS MAGAZINE IS A CONTEMPORARY LOOK AT THE WORLD OUTSIDE OUR WINDOW
As a young girl, I lived in Africa with my brothers and sisters, but our family home — where we stayed when we came back to England — was in Cornwall. Every summer, when we visited, we would head to the standing stones on top of St Breock Downs to see Grandad’s stone, as we knew it, or Men Gurta (the waiting stone). Nearly 16 feet high and composed of local shale with veins of feldspar, the lichen-covered, faceted rock has seams like wounds in which small coins can be wedged. The standing stones are easily reached on foot although, in winter, the ground is waterlogged, and boots squelch and slip on the paths. There are wind turbines up there, too, now — great kinetic sculptures whose rhythmic music adds a soundtrack to the landscape.
As children, we would lay offerings at the stone — wild flowers picked from the path, a posy of heather or, sometimes, if we were lucky, a coin. Eventually, my family returned to England for good and, one by one, we grew up and moved away. Two winters ago, when my father was dying, I took my three boys up there, armed with coins. We pushed the coins into the stone’s crevices, and I screwed up my eyes and willed the gods to change their minds so that Dad could find a way to carry on living.
For most people driving past, these granite rocks jutting out of the earth are just another part of the Cornish scenery. Typically dating from the Bronze Age and occurring all over Britain, these menhirs, orthostats or liths are large vertical stones placed in the landscape by man. They were often places to meet or worship, magical places. Bronze-age relics they may be, but they are also monuments to a millennia of human wishes and prayers.
I was reminded of Men Gurta by the haunting pictures of standing stones we feature in this issue. Shot by photographer Olin Brannigan, these great solid slabs stand to attention in County Mayo, Ireland, preparing to salute spring for, approximately, the 4,000th time. The natural world adheres to its eternal rhythm — new life, regeneration, decay — come what may. Elsewhere in this issue, we are reminded of nature’s dizzying complexity and interdependence in the mycorrhizzal web that lies beneath our feet whenever we walk in the woods — a salutary reminder that no one species can survive without another. From the Vanishing Point flower farm in upstate New York to the Suffolk home of designer Roland Mouret, we find common threads that connect us with the land and those who have come before us. We feel the weight of history on Victoria Fritz’s spade as she becomes the guardian of a garden once owned by Austen Chamberlain, who brokered post-war peace while ‘debt and doubt pulled at the threads of the country’s tailcoats, and poverty lacerated the land’. We also dig below the surface of the floriculture industry and discover how, over time, it has lost sight of its natural roots, and learn how a growing movement is advocating much needed change and a lower carbon footprint.
Nature is resilient, with an amazing capacity to regenerate and adapt. So perhaps we should take more lessons from it when we are seeking answers — and listen to the wind and rain, slow down, find a more natural rhythm. On that windswept moor near St Breock Downs, Grandad’s stone with its curves and shadows, still resonates with a strength — perhaps from all the wishes it holds. Press against its cold, wet surface and you’ll find a reason to remember the scale of things. In these stones’ poised stillness, we sense our fragility and nature’s wisdom. Time may be in short supply, but it stands still here. It could wait for another 4,000 years.
VICTORIA GAIGER (Editor)
27.5 x 21 cm.