I am a very lucky person. Nearly all of my life I have lived in the most beautiful surroundings. In the landscaped countryside of Northamptonshire’s country houses; by the Lakeside and Bush of Uganda North and South; on the hilly outskirts of Nairobi with its white colonial buildings and fields of bent-backed people picking coffee; in the small villages of the Isle of Wight, where seagulls follow the plough and currently in the New Forest where fenceless farms spill out onto the roadways, their animals free to wander where they choose.
I’ve been blustered on weekend walks on the Yorkshire Moors, hiked children through the rolling open farmland of Pennsylvania, worked on small farms and eco-villages in Ireland, enchanted by views of its characterful mountains through my kitchen window. I’ve wintered on the frozen plains of Canada, loved its Maple forests flaming red in the Fall and skiied out of the back door on the snow covered ridges of Western New York; in all these places I have made a home for me and mine at some time in my life, and had time to “dander”. In my younger days I lived in the cities of Leeds, London, and Paris which gave me an appreciation for plane tree-lined avenues, city parks and the people who shared the colours of their flower-filled front gardens and window boxes with all of us who hurried by! I’m sitting in my conservatory now, staring out at huge Oak and Ash trees in my mostly wild “forest” garden! I’m still in-love with the beautiful planet we live on.
I suppose the habit of playing in, walking through or just sitting down and being in nature has been an essential part of my life-style, all of my life. We have a favourite clip of me toddling beside my mother – who is prattling on as usual - in the magnificent Botanical Gardens of Entebbe…I am entirely dwarfed by huge trees and surrounded by luscious colourful flowers. The gentle prattlings of both my mother and father – when we were out and about and later continued around the dinner table – has led me to a life of bringing together what I see and feel, enriched by a longing to give voice to the strength of the experience.
No better place for that than the Land of Stories. It is that place where our journeys, trials, meetings, courageous overcomings, and sometimes “acts of trickery” lead us onwards to our destination, our “coming home”. Places where the weather outside matches and portrays the internal moods of the characters or tensions of the plot, where the descriptions of landscape fill our minds eye with settings big enough, strong enough, beautiful or scary enough to match all our journeys of the soul. Think of the Lord of the Rings and quiver! Now, as a full time “Teller of Tales” I take myself out of the house, to the sea, the heath, the forest and the village for dreaming time. I soak up the sights and sounds. Others tale tellers do this magnificently in the heart of the city…I admire them but my own story world sits more comfortably in a place where the change in season changes everything.
What a challenge then to tell a Tale from Polynesia, or Siberia. Best to travel there for inspiration really, but if you can’t, at least visit a tropical greenhouse and breathe in its steamy air, or visit a snow dome and shiver! You see, most of us Story Tellers are just like yourselves, we have a natural ability to re-image what we have experienced, to run the multi-sensory movie past our inner eye and then look into the eye of the other (the audience) and re-tell the tale, in the moment, in words unrehearsed and in words the listener reflects back to you so that you’re in it together. You know they are understanding it, you know there is a connection. The words are the bridge between our experience and the experience of the listener. No cramming of vocabulary helps, no learning of the words that others have written, just the certainty of having been there once, felt it once, and seen it once so that you can pass the experience on. That is why I “waste” time outside, in all weathers, sometimes with others, at other times alone. A story without setting is a story without soul. Too often nowadays in schools, children are asked to analyse plot, reel off facts, name characters, and basically “get it right” but real stories are never the same twice. The Oral tradition relies on mutation to avoid stagnation. Hidden inside the Tales many of us tellers now tell is the call to go outside, listen to the wind, talk to the animals, watch the bean stalk grow!
Off you go, outside with you, with no agenda of “getting fit” or studying flora and fauna, just go and enjoy…I’ll meet you there and maybe later down the pub, round the fire or in the theatre we’ll tell our tale together.
Taprisha is a Storyteller who has lived the deliberately “slow paced” life of the Camphill Communities – villages where people of mixed abilities live together, create together and work the land. Her stories, both biographical and metaphorical, abound. Taprisha is indebted to all those she has lived with – who came together from all corners of the world and enriched her life and therefore her telling.
You can see and hear Taprisha ‘telling the forest’ on BBC 2′s A Year in the Wild, the New Forest which was broadcast earlier this year. Clips from the programme are available to watch here
Words by Taprisha Seifert; Photography by Anna Rice