Friday, February 6, 2009


I have been reading Richard Mabey's Essays on Landscape, his pottering through the lives of William Robinson, Gilbert White and Richard Jefferies, our relationship to the land around us, our 'rootedness' in a place, Gilbert White living all his life in the same village, recording in minute detail the daily lives of the creatures around him - a methodical naturalist.
Over the last few days we had also been wandering around, in woods this time, and one is always struck how a wood, though manmade also carries in its history the story of its growing.. there is its youth, a maturity, then decay. Old trees jostle with impudent young saplings, but sometimes the canopy is too dense, and the young tree reaches towards the sky in an effort to get to the sun, becoming spindly and elongated in its efforts. Sometimes these trees in later life are vunerable to storms and topple over, though often caught in the branches of nearby trees, they never quite make it to the ground.
One wood we walked through, had what looked like to me coppiced stools, but on reflection may have grown from a fallen tree, they circled the top of the hill. Here we come to a cleared space, the harsh reality of the chainsaw, reveals the bright cream of sawn logs, the stump of the tree exposed cruelly, curving annual rings denoting good and bad years, there is the soft epidermis that carries water up its outer skin to feed its leaves. Finished now, in death the tree provides logs for the fire, and we gather a few to carry back to the car.
The wood is damp, small streams trickle through, muddy paths, a thick dense mulching layer of copper leaves keeping the footfall silent. An abandoned shoe, encrusted with bright green moss.

I am reminded of the alder fruit we had gathered a couple of days before for dyeing, steeping them in water they had produced a strong brown dye.
Today we wander through the woods for pleasure, but for many centuries trees were an essential part of the 'used' landscape, wood for the fire, wood for hurdles, pannage for pigs, wood for the great tall ships of war, wood for the curving grace of timbered houses. We laid waste our woods, so that the great giant oaks are no longer with us, we neglected them in the last century allowing the ugly march of the evergreen fir and pine on the mountains of Wales and Scotland.

Mean while the Mind, from pleasures less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The Mind, that Ocean where each kind
Does streight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other Seas,
Annihilating all that's made
To a green Thought in a green Shade.

Andrew Marvell 'The Garden' 1681

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