Many people who visit Hazel Hill Wood find that the wood itself, the trees and other forms of life there have an intelligence and a voice which can be heard by humans: not with the physical ear, but through meditation and intuition. These voices have given many visitors to Hazel Hill invaluable guidance about their own situation. These voices have also been an important factor in guiding the people who steward the wood in caring for it, planning building, forestry and other human activities. Sometimes these voices carry a wider message about the relationship between humankind and the natural world.
Whilst the idea of the voices of the wood may seem strange to some people, there are many parallels and precedents. For example, some of the Native American tribes, whose survival depended on a deep understanding of and cooperation with the natural world, use a process called the Council of Beings: this process is described by Joanna Macy in her book, Deep Ecology. In this process, a number of people gather in a natural setting, and each chooses to take on the voice of one element of nature in that setting( e.g. the trees, birds, water, animals or more specific species, such as oak, badger etc.). Having chosen, each person goes off alone for a period in silence to hear this voice as clearly as they can. The people then re-gather in a Council of Beings, where each voice is heard, and ways to meet the different needs of these voices, especially by human responses, is discussed. This process has been used by the Hazel Hill Wood Steering Group, and resulted in a number of actions, such as increasing the number of ponds and wetland habitat, and leaving more dead wood on the forest floor to provide a habitat for insects.
Another example of working with the voices of Nature is the approach used over many years by the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland (see 'The Findhorn Garden'), and by Machaelle Wright at her Perelandra Garden in the USA, of creating outstanding gardens through dialogue with the voices of plant species.
Three specific examples of the voices of Nature at Hazel Hill Wood, the trees, the deer, and the ticks, are given below.
The Trees: There are various meditation methods which can help people hear the voices of the trees: several of these are taught in the seasonal Celtic workshops at Hazel Hill. Key elements of these include: getting people to slow down from a typical hectic human pace, to be slow and patient enough to wait for a response; and visualising the human energy body as stretching down into the earth and up into the sky in a parallel to the form of the tree. It is possible to ask questions of trees and in effect carry on a dialogue with them. However, the pace of trees is far slower than that of humans and varies by species,(e.g. birch are quite quick, oak quite slow), so a conversation can take weeks or months.
Some trees at Hazel Hill are visited often by humans, and it seems that these trees are more articulate and responsive, at least in human terms. Conversely, trees in the nature sanctuary areas of the wood, which are very rarely visited by people, seem in human terms sleepy and hard to reach.
Deer: Deer of several varieties are one of the most significant animals at Hazel Hill. Since Alan Heeks bought Hazel Hill in 1987, the deer have not been hunted in this wood, unlike the many neighbouring woodlands. However, the deer, whose population in the UK is generally regarded as rising to excessive levels, present a problem for conservation and forestry at Hazel Hill: they frequently eat off the leading tip of young trees, both those planted under forestry programmes and self-seeded trees forming part of the natural regeneration of the wood.
Experience at Hazel Hill with the deer has paralled that of Findhorn Foundation with other animal species: that it is possible to negotiate and dialogue with species, and get them to change behaviour which is causing problems to people. A key element of such dialogue is that, if the animals are asked to give something up, they must be offered an alternative. At Hazel Hill, the deer have been assigned a large area of nature sanctuary in the south west corner of the wood, which is kept off-limits to people, in return for reducing their browsing of young trees.
Ticks: Deer ticks are common in woods and heathland across southern England. Most people simply regard ticks as an irritant and nuisance: potentially a serious one, since ticks can carry Lyme Disease. Hazel Hill is probably one of the few places where people have sought to hear the voice of the ticks, and to see if there is some deeper message for humans from them. Whilst some visitors to Hazel Hill continue to treat the ticks as simply a nuisance, visitors are encouraged to try to listen for the voice of the ticks to see if there is a message for them. Some individuals have had quite specific messages, for example about improvements to the sustainability of their lifestyle. A Womens' Group has been meeting regularly at Hazel Hill for several years, and they received the following message from the ticks:
'We are here to reach out to you if only you will listen. We have something for you to hear and you would do well to hear what we say. It is high time...this is about our relationship. You feel fear and aversion towards us, but understand that the danger and risk that we represent to you is tiny, infinitesimal compared to the danger that you humans are bringing to us and to the balance and health of so many life forms on this earth. You poison the land and the air and the seas....and yet you complain about little irritations on your skin, a passing fever, the possible danger to the health of one individual or another.
We are the ambassadors, sent to make intimate contact with you. We have to get under your skin for you to take notice, to really take notice... we reach to you in your soft and vulnerable places....it really is a matter of life and death, and it is not about getting rid of us like some pest, it is about standing back from the close-up viewpoint, and waking up to the danger that you yourselves bring to us all, including yourselves and your successors. Will you take as much notice of the message that we carry as you do of our bites, the nuisance, the itching, and the danger of the disease that we may carry?
Essentially we are all one...one life...one sacred life. What we bring to you comes with love, and compassion.'