Miniature and Immensity
(By Sally Todd)
‘Thus the miniscule, a narrow gate, opens up an entire world. The details of a thing can be the sign of a new world which, like all worlds, contains the attributes of greatness.’
In ‘The Poetics of Space’, Gaston Bachelard compares the botanist and his magnifying glass with that of ‘the enlarging gaze of a child’ and that, the act of paying attention is by itself ‘an enlarging glass’. In the woods the children are natural experts at paying attention, and noticing the tiny detail.
They have seen that when it rains (and it often does) snails and especially slugs are suddenly everywhere to be found, their deep black bulging bodies transforming the pathways.
‘Look baby slug, a mummy slug, a slug spider bath.
Ooh that wood’s sharp it’s a beak it’s eating the slug!’ (Callum)
‘This is dead slug no no its moving look its runny’
‘I saw one hundred (slugs)
balanced on top their backs
and I standed on top of them
D’you know how I got down?
Two by two by two down’ (Fyion)
We understand the miniature by its relationship to immensity. Both in the expanse of the reserve and underneath the soaring trees, the children strive to extend their bodies with sticks, reaching up to touch the branches, or they find places to hide, becoming smaller still and absorbed into the landscape. The contrasting, sometimes conflicting nature of these interests (big and powerful or small, vulnerable and hidden) are made manifest in the childrens games and language:
Harrison (looking at the cracks in the ground) : ‘I jumped on that and then it cracked’
Charlie: ‘I’m killing the trees cos they’re laughing at me’
Riley: ‘The stingers want to hurt me’
Ethan: ‘I’ll help you, I’m gonna fight you’
Riley: ‘The bear’s coming! it’s going to eat the camera…I’m ripping the bear
So, there is the permanent and solid fact of the woods, with the towering trees and ‘huge’ hills to grapple with, the intricate fragile world of the slugs and snails and the big unknown of what has come to be called ‘the bear’ for this group of children.
Ethan has discovered he is an expert at climbing the hills and, while at the top he can dwarf all below, he also instinctively crouches behind the leaves and branches, fully camouflaged, and utters an extraordinary bird sound, at once one with the landscape.
Running and Hiding
Callum ‘as tall as the trees’
There is also an awareness and fascination with the holes in the hills and in the trees, and who might live inside them. Ava takes me on a journey of exploration….
This is the secret place, look a tiny worm, a feather, let’s go in here, look at this hole I’m going to put flowers in it, this is a tiny hole, a mouse house. Look (at this log) it’s got holes, its got eyes, I’m putting ‘hair’ in it. This hole’s for another mouse, I’m going to get in it, I can go inside in there all the way to the top (of the tree), let’s stay here and hide.’