On Storytelling

An article from the Exmouth Journal

 Stories have been part of my work for many years sometimes as a storyteller but sometimes hidden in other guises as a teacher, candle maker and organic green grocer among others! At present I work with the educational charity organicARTS (1) on farm based learning and as part of the Harvest Workers Coop (2) in Okehampton running an organic farm shop and community projects. This article is an exploration of how stortelling works for me.

Stories gather at the meeting of worlds. In the Harvest Farm Shop they connect the produce with the customer bringing depth and resonance to the purchase of a humble January King. It's all about knowing the who the how and the when. So it was Sally last Thursday out at Chappell Farm harvesting the cabbages and she was bit worried that the cold winds had dried them out and sad as one of their buyers insists on the outside leaves being stripped off in order that they fit in their delivery boxes! Or maybe it is a snippet about Ben and his horses who pulled the wagon filled to the top with these swedes here. These little tales become part of the narrative of the shop. Sometimes these snippets remain just that, small connections to the world of growing, but others will fruit into full stories to be told around the farm and fire.

Stories celebrate the turnings of the year. Wild garlic stories can really only be told between the time of the first green shoots to the end of flowering and they are best accompanied by freshly made wild garlic pesto. Likewise it is a true celebration and a real marking of change when the Apple stories are brushed off and the Apple press is cleaned down in the autumn. This is accompanied by the knowledge that the next few weeks are going to full of a whole variety of subtly different but always freshly pressed apple juice drunk with the words of the old Apple man, Emma Pippen and Orfeo.

Stories both evoke and give meaning to place. They can open the door to layers of history, mystery, landuse and nature. There is a story of the Badger Thief that has to be told down in the old railway cutting at West Town Farm as that's where Steve said he met the badger stealing straw for the sett. The Panny Brook community story drew upon remembered, researched and imagined histories of the Panny, a well loved stream running through Wonford in Exeter. Andrew really did follow the Panny under ground but did elephants really come down to drink at the muddy waters edge? The artist researchers Wrights and Sites use the term Misguide (3) for when they "employ disrupted walking strategies as tools for playful debate, collaboration, intervention and spatial meaning-making." Certainly the act of walking and storytelling is a powerful way to reconnect with the land on so many levels. I have been enjoying Lisa Schneidau's collection "Woodland Folk Tales" (4) which "retells some of the old stories and relates them to the trees and forests in the landscape of our islands today" A holly tree takes on a more sinister resonance after discovering the barren holly in Lisa's telling of the The Vixen and the Oak Tree!

In lockdown the exchange of tales becomes more significant. They can be the real words that bring a sense of connectedness in this ongoing saga we are in! Telling the stories beyond the exhanges in the shop can be a challenge though. I have tried some online tales as part of Harvest's family workshops (5) but to be honest the experience isn't my favourite! A bit removed and distanced. More successful and rewarding has been the idea of a Walkshop. Think workshop but with more movement! Families pick up a Walkshop guide from our shop follow a trail to a location where they have a fireside seasonal take away - the roasted chestnuts worked particularly well - and a take away story while they wait. This keeps the season and keeps the contact whilst following the guidelines. I am exploring a more organic digital response for geo locational tales using the app Echoes (6) where the story segment is triggered by GPS. Although this is again a digital download the way that it is embedded in place and only accessible in that place makes it very intriguing. Watch (or more properly listen to) this space!

I'll conclude with one of the Polish puppeteer Adam Kilian's principals "Kindle the joy of life even in a stick" Our words and stories can bring so much that is positive to our world at a time when it is so very needed - enjoy the sharing!

(1) https://www.organicarts.org.uk (2) https://www.harvestworkerscoop.org.uk (3) http://www.mis-guide.com/ws/about.html (4) http://www.lisaschneidau.co.uk/woodland-folk-tales/ (5) https://www.harvestworkerscoop.org.uk/site/seasonal-family-workshops/family-workshop-spring-blossom/ (6) https://echoes.xyz/ (7) http://www.theworldthroughwoodeneyes.co.uk/kilian.htm