An Evergreen and Pleasant Land?

Reconciliation ecologist Pete Yeo has long seen heavens in wildflowers, these days working with plants as portals for human-nature connection. In this post, he finds inspiration in William Blake’s poem that later became the hymn Jerusalem when contemplating the impacts of our changing climate on Britain’s evergreen plantlife.


This essay was first published in February 2021 by the University of York’s Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity, and Pete Yeo adds for Finding Blake:

Having been a long-time but distant admirer of Blake, the muse offered “And did those feet in ancient time…” up as inspiration for An Evergreen and Pleasant Land? I didn’t appreciate at first how appropriate it was, though shouldn’t have been surprised. That choice has certainly helped disseminate the essay and its message, of how we might better flow with, rather than against, wider nature, through reference to the climate-induced rise of evergreen vegetation in a traditionally deciduous Britain.

Such ideas exemplify the connected worldview that I have been exploring for decades now, through spirituality and, more recently, the latest insights from the field of unified physics, for example. Both say the same thing — All is One. Which is why I’ve always loved the opening lines of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Though I can’t be sure what he truly meant, for me they beautifully convey the cosmic unity of infinitely scaled energy patterns; a sacred geometry also witnessed in a spiralling galaxy, a hurricane, and the stirred cream in a coffee. Another essay may beckon from the Ocean of Being.

An Evergreen and Pleasant Land?

Laurel - an evergreen species doing well in Britain
Japanese laurel is one of a number of Asian broad-leaved evergreens now naturalising in warmer locations across southern Britain

Whilst Blake’s ‘green and pleasant land’ clearly featured ‘pastures’, then as now England’s natural, spontaneous vegetation tends towards verdant yet deciduous forest.

This has not always been the case; not so long ago in the geological past the climate was too frigid for most plants, whilst further back in time it has been decidedly subtropical. These warmer epochs witnessed the prominence of evergreen woody species, such as those constituting so-called laurel forest. Climate change is now inviting such vegetation back with profound consequences for our relationship with the land and its always evolving ecosystems.

Laurel forest is characteristic of those lands that have a subtropical climate, both warm (not hot) and wet, often forming the ecological transition between tropical and temperate vegetation (though also found at higher and cooler elevations in the tropics). Alternatively known as laurisilva it is dominated by broad-leaved woody evergreens, their glossy leaves reminiscent of the true laurels (Lauraceae, a family of ancient lineage), many of whom are present. Certain warmth-loving needle-leaved evergreen conifers also feature.

And did those seeds in ancient time,
Fall upon England’s mountains evergreen…

In his book, Inheritors of the Earth (2017), evolutionary biologist Chris Thomas draws attention to the Pliocene epoch (5.3-2.6 million years ago). Then, global climate was 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer, and thus moister, than today, and this is the likely climate territory we will reach by the end of this century. In the Pliocene laurel forest was far more prominent in Europe than it is today. Whilst most scholars doubt Jesus ever set foot in England (the question in Blake’s poem), and the fossil record is patchy in regards to past flora, at least some laurel forest representatives will have been present here at that time. Wind the geological clock back towards the even warmer Eocene (56-34 mya) and there is clear proof for this part of the Earth.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. These biodiverse European forests became impoverished by the succession of Pleistocene ice ages (2.6m-11,700ya) which removed most of the cold-sensitive trees, including a majority of the broad-leaved evergreens. Due to the obstructive alignment of European mountain ranges their chances of ever returning from their southern refugia, such as the Iberian Peninsula, were greatly reduced compared to, say, the eastern parts of Asia and North America. And yet some were able to head north again after the ice ages, though these were descendants that had learnt to cope with cooler, drier conditions. English natives holly and ivy are both examples (to which we can add the conifer yew), whilst other laurel forest relicts such as cherry laurel, holm oak and rhododendron were able to make it to the British Isles during one or other of the warmer interglacial periods (a reality that strangely has no bearing on nativeness).

That last trio are once again reappearing (the rhododendron often as a new hybrid), a Second Coming of sorts — or perhaps third, or fourth — not welcomed by everyone (think: ‘alien invasives’). They are being joined by a significant number of far-flung broad-leaved evergreens, especially from Asia, many of whom are close relatives of pre-ice age species. Indeed, I recently observed my first wild camellia seedling, relatives of which are known to have been present in England back in the Eocene. What’s even more telling is that it’s not just woody representatives of laurel forest that are now thriving; Caucasian giant hogweed, Chilean giant rhubarb and Japanese knotweed all hail from laurisilva zones. The Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland’s wild distribution maps illustrate the extent of naturalisation of such species, some being more advanced than others. The heat island that is London along with the warmer parts of England, Ireland and Wales tend to witness the first arisings.

Evergreen species such as bay laurel are becoming increasingly common in the wild in Britain.
A new and ancient flavour to our landscape; bay laurel (the culinary herb) is becoming increasingly common in the wild across southern Britain.

I’ve been closely following one particular broad-leaved evergreen species for many years — bay laurel, the familiar culinary herb. This Mediterranean laurel forest relict, and a true laurel at that, has been cultivated in sheltered localities around Britain for centuries, yet was only observed wild from 1924. That lag is far beyond any expected for a climate-compatible species and strongly suggests a warming factor, with bay laurel now becoming commonplace outside of gardens around southwestern England in particular, where I live. I offer a small, local peri-urban roundabout as example; the native species planting of 30 years surrounding it now features an emergent laurel-like understory with over 120 evergreen saplings. Of these, bay laurel is co-dominant alongside holm oak, with some native holly and a small amount of laurustinus (also from the Mediterranean). Bay laurel is clearly enjoying the warming climate, along with, I suspect, our wetter western seaboard which already supports a variant of temperate rainforest. In turn, birds are obviously relishing this new local forage, its black fruits like mini-avocados (to which it is related).

As Chris Thomas puts it, ‘the rediversification of European forests is underway.’ Admittedly, this is not simply due to our warming climate and reducing frosts that now allow seed-set and dispersal. The process has been facilitated by our global society, our love of trade and, especially, horticulture. This ecological mixing was likely inevitable at some point due to larger Earth cycles yet it all represents a great acceleration of evolutionary processes, and brings novel tensions. We are where we are, however. Whilst throw-back winters may occasionally slow evergreen progress, sufficient warming is already locked-in, however good our efforts at emission mitigation. This invites us to adapt and welcome laurel forest species, and to reconcile ecological and cultural tensions as far as possible, without need for Blake’s ‘chariot of fire’.

Holm oak - an invasive evergreen species?
Holm (holly) oak is already extensively naturalised across southern Britain, as here along the Norfolk coast, and regarded as an invasive species by some.

For this floral shift has consequences; there will be losses, and there will be gains. For example, broad-leaved evergreen trees and shrubs can create a dense, year-round shade to the detriment of herbaceous flora, such as Britain’s popular woodland wildflowers. Native holly is no different in this regard. However, we have a relatively small native flora, especially in regard to woody plants, and laurel-like species will enrich our beech- and oak-dominated woods. Increased biodiversity equates to more options and greater resilience as our ecosystems – our life-support systems – face an uncertain future. So, on the one hand a heartfelt aesthetic loss, on the other an overall ecological gain, though future generations may be less invested in the loss as a result of shifting baselines.

Laurel forests don’t represent an ecological downgrade; instead they can be seen as a future-fit ecosystem upgrade. Consider that warmer and wetter conditions tend to benefit fungi, including the pathogenic kind. It’s probably no coincidence that cherry laurel and rhododendron are both known to be resistant to such threats. The leaf litter of introduced bay laurel has also been shown to often support subtropical, even tropical, fungi, which leads me to wonder about the role of such evergreens in supporting climate-compatible fungi (or vice versa). For the appropriate fungi, whatever their specific ecological role, are critical to ecosystem functioning. This exemplifies the challenges facing ecological relationships with the northward migration of species.

Given the ecological resilience offered by broad-leaved evergreens there may be the temptation to be proactive and accelerate their presence across our landscape, though caution might recommend simply allowing spontaneous naturalisation (a similar tension being apparent within the rewilding movement in regard to native species, of planting versus spontaneous growth). The forestry sector is already thinking ahead, trialing eucalyptus and holm oak, as well as thermophilous needle-leaved evergreens like Atlas cedar, Japanese cedar and coast redwood. And as our agricultural sector evolves, toward regenerative practices in particular, we may see the rise of our own versions of traditional Iberian agroforestry systems, featuring evergreen tree crops like cork and encina (a variety of holm) oaks.

Both sectors could increase evergreen naturalisation, but neither to the extent of horticulture. The RHS report Gardening in a Changing Climate (2017) offers a glimpse of the relevant changes we might expect in this sphere. It suggests that camellia, escallonia and other broad-leaved evergreens could become the dominant hedge and boundary plants in the West Country by 2100. Warmer still yet drier East Anglian gardens could (in 2100) feature many of the laurel forest relict species that survived around the Mediterranean, such as myrtle and strawberry tree. Both scenarios would nurture an increasingly evergreen landscape, and likely be augmented by other subtropical evergreens such as palms.

Silverberries - another evergreen starting to naturalise in our changing cliate
Silverberries (Elaeagnus) are now beginning to naturalise as a result of better fruit set. The author observed his first sapling (of a garden hybrid) in 2019, in Devon.

One way or another our landscape is going to change over the next few generations, perhaps dramatically. My vision is that the necessary responses come as consensual evolution rather than the apparent revolution in Blake’s poem. Key to this will be the ability to see beyond the losses relating to all meanings of this ‘green and pleasant land’, toward the laurel-like silver linings set to ‘shine forth upon our clouded hills’. That way, we help liberate the future from the past, ‘dark satanic mills’ and all.

Whilst it’s been fun to riff with William Blake’s poem, it highlights the importance of responsibility and choice. Our actions, and the perceptions that inspire them, will decide whether we meet a pleasant land in the future. As we undertake a necessarily sacred renewal of our relationships within the dynamism that is Life, a bigger canvas eagerly awaits the more reverential flourishes of our human artistry.


Notes

For more from Pete, see his website, Future Flora, and his similarly-named Facebook page has been the platform for weekly musings. Lately, he’s felt a call to write more expansively on the need for a more holistic and reverential relationship with the plant realm (and hence all Life). At times the muse has felt rather Blakean.

Laurel forest, also called laurisilva, is a type of subtropical forest found in areas with high humidity and relatively stable, mild temperatures. The forest is characterized by broadleaf tree species with evergreen, glossy and elongated leaves, known as ‘laurophyll’ or ‘lauroid’.

For further information on the ancestry of British woodlands, see Roots and Branches — while the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland’s wild distribution maps illustrate the extent of naturalisation of so-called invasive species.

A shifting baseline is a type of change to how a system is measured, usually against previous reference points (baselines), which themselves may represent significant changes from an even earlier state of the system. The concept is relevant to all aspects of change and the failure to notice change in the world today.

The Royal Horticultural Society’s report Gardening in a Changing Climate (2017) describes some of the impacts our changing climate is expected to have on Britain’s gardens. 

In ‘Jerusalem’ – a Song, an Idea, Few Can Resist, Finding Blake’s founder James Murray-White reflects on the enduring, but shifting, resonance of Blake’s famous lines on Jerusalem for visions of ‘England’s green and pleasant land.’ And in Jerusalem in South Molton Street, we filmed actor Matt Ray Brown reading Blake’s poem in Blake’s house in South Molton Street. Do also check out Another Jerusalem, where artist, musician, illustrator, songwriter and poet Salli Hipkiss introduces her poem, Another Jerusalem.

Divine Madness

We're excited to welcome another new voice to Finding Blake. James Fox shares the story of his accidental discovery of William Blake and, through his works, the key to a treasure that is a vision of the future - of humanity at home in the world.


It all began for me with one of those accidental discoveries made whilst randomly browsing in a second-hand bookshop in Glastonbury. Not looking for any special subject in particular – and Blake was certainly not on my mind – I somewhat apathetically pulled out a book simply entitled William Blake. It was written by John Middleton Murry, the prolific author of more than sixty books and editor of the Adelphi magazine. He was married to Katherine Mansfield and was part of a scene that included the likes of D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley, the latter portraying him as Denis Burlap in Point Counter Point.

Like Nietzsche’s discovery of Schopenhauer in a bookshop in Leipzig, opening the covers of William Blake was like parting the Doors of Aurora. As I read the opening sentences, then the first page, a spiritual sun began to glow inside me. Almost immediately I sensed the presence of treasure, or at least the key to treasure, of something I knew not what that I’d been searching for, explicitly for the last ten years (and which had taken me to some troubled regions), maybe my whole life. Ironically, or perhaps not so, it was in those troubled regions that the Countenance Divine had shone forth for me in a green and pleasant grove on the edge of Dartmoor. But that experience had evaporated like a mirage, the treasure locked away as a mere memory. But I quickly saw in those opening pages of William Blake that Middleton Murry himself had experienced the Countenance Divine; and when I later began reading the book properly was satisfied that it was this, what he terms ‘spiritual sensation’, and all its psychological and philosophical aspects and ramifications, that is at the core of Blake’s work.

Urizen the emissary becomes master

With Middleton Murry’s book behind me I read an edition of Blake’s complete illuminated books and from previously being bemused on account of being unable to make any sense of Blake’s writings I now found myself in a series of excursions into worlds and landscapes in which difficult and elusive existential concerns and psychological forces and states were brought into plain sight by means of the theatre of poetry and imagery. I encountered Urizen – a menacing presence, yet also a sad one. He is our rational faculty; but when he is wrongly placed in our psyche, when he ceases to be an instrument of our creative, active forces and, in Iain McGilchrist’s words, ceases to be emissary and assumes the role of master, then he tries to direct our lives through knowledge of the ‘best way to live’. This ‘ethical’ knowledge of right and wrong action either originates in some omniscient source (God the Father) or has to be worked out by the human intellect. Being a philosopher trained in the Western tradition, and not subscribing to the notion of God the Father, I set out to know, in some form or another, the incontrovertible nature of the universe, myself and their relationship – that I might obtain this knowledge of right living.

It has been said that (Western) philosophy, ultimately, is asking the question: how should we live? Fortunately most philosophers don’t apply this to their own lives, preferring to confine it to the study or the classroom. I, on the other hand, like a madman, threw myself into reading whatever philosophy, religion or science I thought might deliver me of that ‘incontrovertible’ knowledge of how to live (for the best). Coming as this did on the back of a recently completed PhD on the history of philosophy, it is no wonder that I found myself under mental strain and began to suffer from insomnia – although the cause of this was not apparent to me at the time. Finding myself awake in the middle of the night, agitated, my mind whirring, but impelled by some subterranean imperative (to know the All), apprehensive of the tiredness that would plague the day to come – I realised that I had a problem. And the way you solve problems is by the intellect, by thinking things through. And so the knot of threads that was my mental state was pulled yet tighter.

Months passed before moments of realisation came, and went, that the root of my problem lay in obsessive thinking. When this realisation possessed me, the urge to think abated, and the world became a calm and present place. But, like one possessed of a demon, sooner or later the imperative ‘to know’, like a flywheel that can’t shed its momentum, would hijack my mental life-energy until once more I found myself in the same dark cave, wide awake, pulling on that tangled knot.

But one day I found William Blake in the cave beside me when, reading Milton, I heard him say:

To cast off the idiot Questioner, who is always questioning
But never capable of answering, who sits with a sly grin
Silent plotting when, like a thief in a cave.

When reading There Is No Natural Religion I heard:

More! More! Is the cry of a mistaken soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man.
If any could desire what he is incapable of possessing, despair must be his eternal lot.

In Jerusalem I came across the tyrannical monster of Urizen poised over the spontaneous creative life force of Los:

Spectre over Los, Plate 6 Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion by William Blake Copy E
Source: The William Blake Archive via Wikimedia

And I saw in that monster the nature of my own obsessive thinking.
But in The Book of Urizen I came across this mental tyrant in a different guise:

The First Book of Urizen, Plate 12 (Bentley 22), William Blake
Source: Yale Center for British Art Paul Mellon Collection

Here was a tormented creature, eyes closed, wrists and ankles shackled, imprisoned in a world of his own in-turned psychical nature – and I saw myself in this creature. And my anger towards him melted into sadness: he had never intended to unleash this misery and despair; he had not set out to be a tyrant and suppressor of the joy, meaningfulness and vitality of life. If it had not been for his emergence into our psyche during the last Ice Age we would not be here today. Yet, something had obviously gone wrong. And this was something to do with the magnitude of the psychical energy that this Urizenic rational faculty had drawn upon and bloated itself with, and which had resulted in an excessive preoccupation with shadowy abstract materials and a shutting out of the direct sensing of the presence of the world. Thus:

He who sees the Infinite in all things, sees God.
He who sees the Ratio only, sees himself only.

Los at home in the world

I recall awakening in the middle of the night in a flat in Kentish town, whilst in London to attend a meeting of the Blake Society. The final image of Jerusalem appeared before me as the visually realised solution to the problem of Urizen:

Two forms of Los with Enitharmon, Plate 100 of Jerusalem, William Blake
Source: The William Blake Archive via Wikimedia

Los stands with a hammer in one hand and dividers in the other. The hammer is the creative spontaneous life force of the Imagination; the dividers are the measuring, partitioning rational faculty indispensable for day-to-day life. But now, the two are in harmony: now, the ratio is the instrument of art and imagination. Los is at home in the world, at one with its divine presence that shines forth in its elemental modes: solid land, trees; the flowing river, the Moon; the fiery Sun; the translucent air through which the stars and the universe are seen.

I had been trained in the Western philosophical tradition before my interests turned to mystical doctrines, which I then studied at the theoretical and practical level for some years. However, I had not been able to concert all that I had imbued or tried out into any kind of satisfying and productive outlet. Though not claiming to have read exhaustively in the world’s mystical treatises, I have found in Blake’s work the most profound account of mystical experience – an experience we are told is ineffable – and a philosophy that treats of and makes sense of most of the ‘major questions’ concerning the human condition: issues which academic philosophers continue to churn over as they have for more than two thousand years, often in a rationally pompous yet bloodless and boring fashion. Blake, on the other hand, can say in a few lines of poetry, and say it better, what most academic philosophers cannot say in a book.

On the mystical:

To see a world in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild flower.

On the ontological:

That an Eternal life awaits the worms of sixty winters
In an allegorical abode where existence hath never come.

On the epistemological:

If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character, the Philosophic &
Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things
& stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.

In poems such as The Chimney Sweeper Blake can also show us – and in affecting ways – the lived personal experience of those who suffer due to the absence of the spiritual in our day-to-day world.

Countenance Divine

For me, Blake is foremost a spiritual visionary; his poetic works and art are the means by which he shows us his vision. This vision is of a future in which we have awakened from our present human condition of being shut out from the sense of being at home in the world, and instead find ourselves in a state in which the world we live in day to day is experienced as suffused, more or less, with the Countenance Divine; in which we have ceased to experience ourselves as separate, finite beings, trembling and sick in fear of the annihilation we suppose is inevitable, and instead experience all things, creatures and human beings, the Earth and the heavens above, as suffused with divinity: as radiant, at one and timeless. And from this springs inevitably the sense of the preciousness and beauty of the planet upon which almost everything we know and experience and live for is located; a desire naturally wells up that instils in us a sense of care towards our precious environment, and a compassion towards all creatures and human beings.

We cannot return to the Stone Age, before Urizen became misplaced: we cannot remove from the world or our memory all that our excessive and misplaced ratio has brought about. But we can re-place him, and in so doing allow ourselves to wake up spiritually: to feel at home in the world once more; to open ourselves to the creative forces of the imagination which provide us with our purpose, joy and vitality; to feel at one with and hence to wish to care for our natural environment and other creatures; and to use Urizen, now as instrument, in the service of this new mode of being.

Finding Blake has spurred me to try to develop some sort of nature-based mystical philosophy and shaman-like practice for today that will help to bring about this kind of spiritual awakening and avert the increasing psychological, social and environmental damage that our misplaced Urizen is causing. A keystone in this endeavour would be Blake’s work. I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who shares this vision or is working in this area. May the spirit of Blake guide me! 


Notes

James Fox is a philosopher and former researcher at the Open University and is a co-author of A Historical Dictionary of Leibniz’s Philosophy (Scarecrow Press, 2006). He is now mostly interested in mystical texts, especially pantheistic nature-based doctrines and practices which he sees as key to transforming our conception of ourselves in relation to the world: a transformation that can lead to the spiritual experience of total at-homeness in (at one with) the natural environment and hence to the feeling of a reverence and duty of care towards that environment. Prior to pursuing philosophy, he held a position in a climate research department at the UK Meteorological Office.

Modest Things

Finding Blake is delighted to welcome artist, musician, illustrator, songwriter and poet Salli Hipkiss, who has very generously offered a poem she wrote in 2017. Modest Things brings her life-long love of William Blake to her growing concern with the problems of climate change and other environmental threats to human and other life.

As with many children, I first encountered Blake when my primary school teacher read The Tyger aloud in class. I remember being awed by the vivid creature that formed clearly in my imagination, and also being a little shocked and thrilled by the mis-rhyme of “eye” and “symmetry” which hinted that the rules of language were far from set in stone.

As an ‘A’ level English and Art student, Blake appeared again and I enjoyed responding visually, carving a mahogany dragon knotted around a wax rose inspired by The Sick Rose as part of my sculpture course. I feel I grew up with Blake. Since those beginnings I have continued to feel a strong kinship with the way he moves fluidly between vision, language, poetry, and advocacy — between eye and ear and mind and heart. 

The Sick Rose (Songs of Innocence and of Experience)
by William Blake , ca. 1825
Medium: Relief etching printed in orange-brown ink and hand-colored with watercolor and gold
Public Domain: The Met Museum, New York
www.metmuseum.org

I went on to gain a degree in Fine Art and Art History from Goldsmiths College and later an MA in Children’s Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art. I have worked as an art teacher at home and internationally. 

I am also drawn to Blake’s sense of an innate justice, especially his railing against forces which rob people of their natural, creative life paths and individual flourishing, or nature of its natural expression and abundance:  “A Robin Red breast in a Cage/ Puts all Heaven in a Rage”. And I delight in exploring the universal in his more mystical lines.

The poem I am thrilled to be sharing here was written in March 2017 in response to my own musing — and attempt not to be despairing — about the magnitude of the environmental problems facing our planet today. Seeking intuitively to find an imaginative, inner mentor to help grapple with these issues I found myself asking the question: “What would William Blake have done?” I felt a pulse of excitement as I recognised this could be the first line of a poem and I crafted the rest of the poem from there. I am very happy to discover the Finding Blake website and her community of like minds and feel honoured to be asked to share my work here. Thank you.

Modest Things  


What would William Blake have done when faced with climate change?
Would he have balked at mills rolled out at scales
His pastoral demons never could have seen?                                   
Should we be kinder to our visionaries living now?
Those with imaginations wide enough to see the enormity of what might loom:
(The unmarked loss of countless furred and scaled and feathered kin);
Those with ears that hear too loud
The faltering beats – yes, hearts as well – as Evolution fails her prismatic wings?
 
And oh how highly we value our Van Goghs now!
But a heart that flowers golden;            
An acute feeling for stars;
An affinity with infinity:
These are senses that can crack a soul too wide open
If not comforted and contained by softer, closer loves.
           
And so I take my garden patch, my childrens’ corner plot,
And pour into those earthen hands as many seeds and roots and worms as I can find.
I watch as dust and rain and sunshine gather in and cradle all these modest things;
Tendrils climb and walls turn green with shiny hearts that hold a Wren.           
What I can I do to help stall Evolution’s spin,
With pen and can and hoe and taking time to show
That trees that reach so high into the stars
Must grow deep roots to balance them below.


Salli Hipkiss ©1st March 2017. All rights reserved.

Notes

Salli Hipkiss is a poet, writer, artist, songwriter, and singer who for fifteen years has worked freelance as a creative practitioner and teacher/advocate of arts and sustainability, recently alongside being a full-time home-schooling Mum. Salli’s creative work has moved between art, music, illustration, songwriting, poetry, novel-writing and more.  She is passionate about human creativity and individual flourishing, and about environmental sustainability and regeneration, and is curious about how the two areas can be symbiotic, leading to a holistic vision of wellbeing. Some of her portfolio can be explored on her website: www.sallihipkiss.com

Millefleurs 2004 © Salli Hipkiss
sallihipkiss.com