GRETE HJORTH-JOHANSEN
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Arborglyphs is their proper name, but I call them LOVEHEARTS, these crude wood carvings on the beech trees declaring eternal love for everyone to see. LEE + BEKI, are they still an item, I wonder. The tree bark has stretched most of the hearts and initials to breaking point where they can no longer be deciphered, a suitable retaliation against these selfish acts of vandalism the trees have had to endure.

While the trees might want to erase these marks, I want to know more. Who were these couples? What were their stories? Where are they now? I’ve been told Epping Forest was once a popular honeymoon destination for Londoners. I’ve also been told most visitors to the forest were (and still are) just day trippers, with no connection to the local area. Still, I do wonder… I imagine the forest as the perfect place for a secret teenage romance, away from parents, away from ‘everything’, even from their own true selves.

The concept of romance is built strongly on imagination, anticipation, the potency of what might happen. The build-up, the excitement, the promise of validation by being chosen. Feelings are strong. Feelings last forever, because the moment we all live in has no beginning or end, it’s just Now. This Now is eternal. This Now must be declared, on the smooth bark of the beech tree.

When I look at these carvings, I see the aftermath of the grand moments. The bark has cracked as the years have gone by, the initials have faded. Some have been crossed out. Some hearts look ugly now, grotesque even, while moss and lichen attempt to hide what were once symbols of great love. It makes me think of the darker side of romance. It was a well kept secret until the moment it was experienced in an explosion of raw, unrelenting heartache. Unless you only love once, there is no avoiding it, but we were never warned, never prepared, that’s what interests me. Nobody drilled us in how to keep our sense of self intact after sudden rejection, or how to find a way through the dark mental forest of grief, lingering attachment, rage, jealousy and despair. After the romance, this new, bleak and cold Now is equally eternal. It is this Now I often see declared as disfigured and lumpy hearts on the trees in Epping Forest.

If you know anyone who carved a heart or had a romance in Epping Forest, please contact me. I would love to hear your stories and make them part of this project.

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