I created a new section of path in the woodland last week, and was struck by how randomly key sites have been created.
When we took on the woodland, a little over three months ago, we were faced with trees planted at foot feet apart, and then abandoned to grow tall and skinny. They had a remarkably good survival rate, and there has been a certain amount of seeding going on as well; it felt weird and unnatural, just going on and on with no features or landmarks except for the variation in sogginess of the ground. The first thinning was about ten years overdue, and as mentioned here before, I made the early decision to remove sycamores and leave the native species. Luckily they were just within size limits for easy felling without complications of licenses or power tools.
M was very keen to have a den, so we started cutting a few small sycamores down in an area not too far from the path. Suitable branches or trunks were saved for the den and we made a pile of the brush. But there was nowhere to put our largest trunk as a roof-beam where we had started, and the ground quickly became churned up with mud.
Returning another day, it being autumn half term, M and I each got hold of one end of the trunk to be our beam and set off through the woods. It was reasonably long, so we had to go in a straight line between the trees. We had no plan or map, our aim was just to be further from the path, and find two oaks to put it across without any sycamore in the way. We went in circles a bit, mostly downhill since that was easier, and eventually, randomly, picked a spot. We then had to find our way back to the original pile of sticks, and transfer them all into the den so that we could start building.
Once the trees lost their leaves, and a few more of the sycamores had been removed, we realised it wasn’t that far from the path after all – although nowhere is very far in our wood. It got muddy there too, but I realised chopping up sticks into short lengths and leaving them on the ground stopped feet from sliding and sinking in.
Gradually a camp formed next to the den. First a pile of long logs, then a fireplace, then a second pile of long logs, a properly planned pile of shorter logs with supports that doubles as a saw bench, a handy stump for splitting wood on, a pile of split logs drying for firewood, a pile of deadwood for starting fires, a pile of forked sticks… In other words, a proper working area where we can leave our things, sit down to eat lunch, and always find easily.
As we continued to work, plans evolved. I had a rather naive idea we could take random routes to base camp and avoid creating a path. Gradually the whole area became muddy, so I quickly called a stop to this practice and created a curved path using sticks underfoot as had worked before – placing them before the ground got churned up meant they didn’t immediately press in to the ground, but they are developing nicely as a path now. Where there are spaces I have now planted some hazel coppice, which will hopefully grow up and block the view to the main footpath as well as filling in the canopy.
Then finally I realised we need paths beyond base camp, before that area, too, becomes unsafe to carry a log over and all the mosses and ferns on the ground get trampled, and so that we don’t keep blocking our safe routes with cut off branches. Again, I pick a routes that seem nice, not too straight, but not too curved to carry a trunk for logging, and going in a somewhat useful direction towards the outer corners of the woodland.
I look at it and laugh with gratitude for being guided so well. This first camp has proved an excellent place to start out: close to the main footpath when we arrive, close to the area we have worked this year and the one we plan to work next winter, slightly sloped so less waterlogged than much of the woodland, and full of birdsong. The paths go where we need them and are pretty. I am starting to think about what native wildflowers I can try and introduce in the areas we don’t plan to walk too often.
A comment from Marko Pogacnik has stuck with me, where he met a Nature Spirit or Deva looking very like the Goddess Diana.
“The fairy made it explicitly clear to me that it was her task to guide animal species within a certain landscape by giving energy impulses towards a harmonious pattern of movement within the chosen area.”
Marko Pogacnik, Nature Spirits & Elemental Beings
It makes me consider just how much is guided by nature spirits in the wood, plants as well as animals. I have commented already about how brambles never land next to their own roots, always leaving growing space, yet I have seen no similar avoidance of trees where the rooting tip will get as close as possible to the base of a small trunk. When planting some small yew trees, I found I could carry each around, and there were places where its energy felt harmonious to what was already growing, and places where it didn’t. I planted them where it was.