‘You discover things on the road to nowhere in particular.’
It’s April, and we’re feeling hopeful. The world has faced (and continues to face) a lot of scary events, but the arrival of spring and the gradual post-pandemic recovery in many nations have given us a new energy. Global chaos remains, always, but we’re choosing hope — for ourselves and for those who need it most. 2022 is taking on a new shape for many of us; we can feel it, but we can also see it.
We’re here with you in the madness, the rebirth, the void, the new normal, or however you view the current times in which we live.
Cover image: Central Mongolian steppe, being
Cover quote: Clarissa Pinkola Estés
G O O D S T U F F
Save our ecosystem
Ecosia is a free search engine available on most browsers that plants trees with every search. The company grows 500-plus different species in over 60 countries to help biodiversity and local communities. Its projects include reviving forests on former palm oil plantations and restoring desert land to its former fertile glory. It also donates some of its search profits to causes in the news, for example global wildfire relief and NHS hospitals in the U.K.
Listen (and bask)
With the new season making a welcome appearance, we can’t get enough of Linying’s mellow tune “Springtime”. It’s the embodiment of this time of year; soft, wistful, hopeful. The song, released in 2021, is about how it can be hard to determine if it’s first love or if it’s just the magic of springtime. Of how the track came about, the Singaporean singer said, ‘It’s mid-March, and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and I’m standing on the lawn thinking — who wouldn’t want to feel like this all the time?’ Amen.
An easy DIY room fragrance: add 1 tablespoon of witch hazel to a 4-oz spray bottle (the standard size) and top up with distilled water. Then, choose your scent (up to 30 drops max. of essential oil). If you need a mental boost, go for citrus oils. For general cheeriness, we’re fans of geranium. To create relaxing vibes, lavender’s the one. If you need some calm confidence, try ylang ylang. For those with pets, we recommend cedarwood oil (one of the few oils that’s safe for their respiratory systems). You can make blends too (for example, geranium with lavender makes for a happy, balanced atmosphere).
N O T E S O N
Mongolian Horse Culture
Nothing is more synonymous with Mongolia than the horse, evinced by the fact that horses outnumber people in the vast landlocked region. It’s believed that nomads on the central steppe have been riding horses since 2000 BC, but perhaps the connection is best known because of the Khans and their Mongol armies.
The Khan family conquered the majority of the Eurasian steppe thanks in big part to their trusty steeds, who were typically short, stocky, and stamina-tastic. Ögedei Khan (Genghis’ third son) and his army relied on (and expanded) a horse-based messaging system called the örtöö (‘office’), known as the Yam in western languages. A rider would arrive at a station, pass a message or document to another rider who then rode to the next station (roughly 30 miles away), while the first messenger rested, and so on. British troops had carrier pigeons, and the Mongols had horse messengers.
Horses were seen as more than just transportation during the Mongol Empire. They got soldiers through various aspects of war, from finding sustenance to carrying them into the afterlife should they be killed while mounted.
Today, as in 2000 BC, horses are revered for their part in nomadic culture. Nomads still depend on horses not only to transport them and their disassembled gers (felt tents) across the steppe when it’s time to move on, but also to herd livestock and to provide milk (which is commonly fermented into national drink airag).
A L B U M S F O R W H E N E V E R
The Marfa Tapes
Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert,
and Jon Randall
“Am I Right or Amarillo”
Like many singles and albums released over the last two years, The Marfa Tapes is a unique, back-to-basics offering in response to these unprecedented times. Created by country singer-songwriters Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, and Jon Randall, the record is a collection of original tunes and some of Lambert’s own songs, all recorded in Marfa (in the West Texas desert) with just their voices, two microphones, and two acoustic guitars. The songs were captured (in Jon Randall’s words), ‘around the campfire, on the back of a truck, or near mooing cows.’ The whole album is a raw, intimate experience, made all the more endearing by the spontaneous laughs, ad-libs, and outdoor noises in the background.
The songs themselves are simple yet substantial, a mix of upbeat grassroots bops and mellow folk serenades. The singers’ harmonies are dreamy, allowing listeners to appreciate the craft of harmonising away from shiny, heavily produced records.
The album has an accompanying documentary, which you can find at www.themarfatapes.com
D I V E I N
Trees are historians, geographers, travellers, and observers. And just like us, they all have roots in different places — literally and figuratively. Every species has a home, sometimes more than one if they live outside of their ancestral ground. Olive trees are found most abundantly in Spain and Italy, but they originated in Israel. Banyans, popular in China and North America, come from India, while horse chestnut trees, born on the Balkan Peninsula (e.g., Greece and Serbia) are now common worldwide (much to the delight of conker-wielding children across the U.K.).
It’s hard to remember that so many of the items in our homes came from trees. The smooth desk I’m currently writing on, the rosewood guitar in the living room, the chopping board propped up on the kitchen counter. You can’t feel trees in these items. Their energy has been sanded down and wiped away, and what remains, a glossy veneer, says nothing of where they have come from. If they retained their natural texture, bark and all, would we still want them? And if we didn’t, would that be a good thing?
I read about a woman who ‘communed’ with a tree near her home and decided I wanted to do the same. To be able to lean against the same tree, watch the same tree change, and even talk to the same tree, sounded fulfilling.
After a few months of walking around the island I call home, pretending to casually admire the foliage while really assessing each tree, I found it. I was visiting one of my favourite spots — a clifftop accessed only by crossing a beach, clambering over giant rocks, and doing something of a dicey dance across slippery clay crags. It was a moody day, and the wind was ferocious. The exposed cliff and raging waters below felt unsafe, so I backed up and sought shelter under a tall tree with an over-arching canopy of needle-laden branches and long, thick roots, snaking all the way to the cliff’s edge. Looking up at the tree I was clinging to, I knew. This tree I’d seen tons of times but never considered, the one now protecting me from the gale force, was the one. After that, I went to the cliff regularly for the sole purpose of visiting the tree. I watched it, sat with it, talked to it, and yes, even gave it a squeeze.
In Japanese, there’s a word to describe the way the light filters through the leaves of trees: komorebi. Its three characters are made up of the words for tree, come through or escape, and sunlight. It’s not only the phenomenon itself that’s deemed to be beautiful but also the way it causes movement and shadow. There’s no direct translation in English; perhaps the closest is ‘dappled sunlight’.
My friend in America told me about a physics-defying tree he saw in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He included a photograph of it in his letter, and it was clear what he meant: the tree was sat on the very edge of a cliff, leaning over.
This isn’t the only tree that I’ve heard resists gravity. Árboles bandera (‘flag trees’ in Spanish) grow horizontally. Found in South America, the beech trees are shaped by the west winds (which can exceed 60 mph), meaning they look like the wind has blown them sideways and, much like the adage our grandparents scared us with, they stay that way. The trees survive because they’re logical and flexible, digging deep into the soil to establish a strong base and willingly bending in the wind, accommodating the conditions they cannot control. Perhaps this is a lesson for humans. Instead of fighting what we can’t change, accept and adapt.
The Overstory by Richard Power is an epic work of fiction that tells the stories of different characters whose lives are shaped and changed by trees. The individual narratives are cleverly woven together through their shared investment in the world of trees. The book, full of humanity and variety, is a fantastic read, but its real purpose seems to be showing, in no uncertain terms, how important and woefully under-appreciated trees are.
Redwood trees are special. For starters, they’re the oldest trees in the world — they’ve been around for 240 million years. The oldest on record still with us is believed to be 2,200 years old. They’re also the largest trees in the world. They can grow up to 300 feet tall and have a pretty girthy trunk (making hugging rather tricky). Plus, they’re the only tree native to the Californian coast. The other trees along the Pacific Coast were chosen and planted there, but redwoods originated in California and continue to outlive other trees, wildlife, and, of course, people.
How many of our childhood memories include trees? I can recall at least three (picking apples from the tree in the garden; a friend falling out of a tree and breaking his arm; building forts at tree bases in the undergrowth near my home). Perhaps for you it was playing on a swing attached to a thick branch or watching from an apartment window as the same tree grew and shed its leaves each year. Maybe it was sitting on an old stump in a park or listening rapt as your parents talked about Buddha and the Bodhi tree. Trees seem to mean more to us emotionally than other foliage. Perhaps it’s knowing that they communicate with each other and are ‘close’ to humans in this way. Or maybe it’s simply that they watch us grow up, provide a sense of stability, and of course, give us life.
Books about trees for your perusal:
The Hidden Life of Trees — Peter Wohlleben
Around the World in 80 Trees — Jonathan Drori
The Overstory — Richard Power
The Song of Trees — David George Haskell
R E A D S F O R W H E N E V E R
Prisoners of Geography — Tim Marshall
A crucial (and timely) read for those who want to understand global politics or simply learn how certain countries came to be, Prisoners of Geography takes a straight-forward look at ten nations, including China, Russia, and the USA. Each country is given a full chapter in which Marshall (a British journalist specialising in foreign affairs, geo-politics, and international diplomacy) discusses its origins, history, and recent events. Prisoners of Geography was published in 2016 but remains invaluable for its rounded insight, helping us to better understand some of the things happening today. Marshall followed up this offering with Divided: Why We're Living in an Age of Walls, A Flag Worth Dying For, and The Power of Geography.
R O O T S
It’s believed that the word ‘shampoo’ originally derived from the Sanskrit root word capayati, which refers to pounding or kneading something. In Hindi it took the form of champo and retained a similar meaning: to press or squeeze. The word was picked up on by English travellers and traders as they journeyed around Asia, and transformed into ‘shampoo’. They associated it specifically with Indian massages that involved washing both the body and the hair. In 1860, ‘shampoo’ lost this overall washing connotation and instead referred specifically to washing hair. A century later, it also came to include washing carpets and fabrics.