Talking Wood

 By Bernie Bell

Someone sent me a link to a podcast featuring Alan Garner, speaking of how woodland was, and can be, worked.

Here’s my response………….

“Thank you for sending this. Thing is…….though I grew up in Bradford, my family are Irish, living on a very small farm – what would be called a croft here. No water on tap, or electricity. They had a few fields, and a river where they got the reeds for the thatch, and the sand for cleaning the flagstone floor. Living off the land.  So, what Mr. Garner is talking of, is very familiar to me. Also, yes, wood does speak as does stone, and many folk don’t listen – but some do.

“Stone has music in it, and wood still lives, though cut”.

It was familiar territory, in a number of ways – the actual work he was describing, and the wood and Life, speaking as the man works – if the man will listen.

It was how many, many people lived, until quite recently. People working like that. Paying attention to what’s around them, and especially what they’re working with  – if you don’t pay attention to it and what it’s telling you, and let that influence how you work with it – what you’re doing doesn’t work right. People’s lives depended on paying attention.  Now, we’re losing our senses, and ….losing our senses.

Alan Garner observes that much of the landscape of Britain is now artificial – he’s right, in a way, in that it’s all the product of man’s hands. But – and to me a big BUT that matters – no tree is artificial, or grass, or plant, or water, or stones.  When I look out of our window, I see farmland, and our garden, and the sea.  The farmland and our garden could be said to be artificial, as they are the product to man’s hands, but I see them as just being….what they are. The things I’m looking at, aren’t artificial.

Bernie Bell view

Maybe un-natural would be another word – but they’re not un-natural, either. Maybe I’m nit-picking. Our garden  – we started it off, from a scalped lawn, and now it pretty much goes its own way, with a bit of management. Things turn up, from nowhere, things disappear.  Turn our back on it and it would soon go back to, probably breckland. And why breckland?  Drainage I suppose, and what does that come down to? Geology – it all comes down to geology. Do you see what I’m on about?  Yes, the woodlands we have are now the product of man’s hands, but, they also do what they like to a large extent, and, leave a patch of land to itself, and it does what comes naturally. Before we lived here, we lived in Suffolk. Across the road from us, was a largish patch of land grass. It had been bought for building on, then that didn’t happen, due to economics. So, it was just left…..the grass got long, other things started to grow, shrubby things appeared, small trees appeared. You ‘ll recognize what I’m talking about.  Yes, artificial, but – nature was taking over again. I’m sorry to say I’ve since heard that it’s been built on – so it goes.

In a way, much of what we see around us could be said to be ‘artificial’, maybe so, but ………it just is, what it is.  It’s living, and does what it does, and will go ahead doing that, unless we step in again. What was at the very beginning?  Even that will have been nibbled by things, and, inadvertently, fertilized.  It was, and is, all the product of things happening to it, and around it.

OK, I’ve made my point.

It’s a very complicated business – what can be called ‘artificial’ and what isn’t – how far back do you go?  It’s all there, anyway – what was originally there, is there, still – or, something of it.

I’m looking at and thinking of our garden, again and again, as I write this, and the bits of magic that have happened there since we let it go to meadow.  We do get it strimmed once a year – still – the bugs, birds, and voles don’t let that stop them inhabiting it.

I do like /appreciate what Mr. Garner writes and says. That’s the thing – he always catches  it all so well, and so succinctly!  For someone who does blather on a bit, to read his prose, which is so precise and spare, is wonderful. I wonder at how he says so much with so few words.

Listening to that piece – well, I can recognize what’s happening there. Some folk just cut wood or work on land, without any real inter-action with what they’re doing. Some pay attention, and in my opinion, things work better when they do so.

The farmer on the farm behind us in Suffolk really cared for his land, he paid attention, and it showed.  He is also a very good dowser.

That’s my response to listening to that piece, and to the idea of landscape being artificial/produced by man. Just my way of seeing it and feeling it.  It is – what it is. What’s artificial?

Life works best when we pay attention, then The Fickle Finger of Fate just flicks us across the game-board!

Bernie Bell Fickle Finger of Fate

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