Random Woodland Planning

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.

Can Sickness Be Helpful?

I have a friend who is never ill no matter what bugs are going around the school where she works. It strikes me that she is totally in balance, in herself, in her environment. There is never any ‘dis-ease’ there to create ill health – and clearly nor did she choose to incarnate with any genetic disposition to ill health that she wished to learn from.

I, on the other hand, have learned much from illness and it has set me on the path I am on. Reading The Occult Diaries of R Ogilvie Crombie, it was interesting to see a parallel in his life. The heart condition he was born with altered the life he led, for example he never completed his science degree, and spent many years living in simplicity and solitude during WW2 and beyond, but ultimately allowed him to do his work in connecting with Nature Spirits. Sometimes having limitations was entirely necessary, such as the time when he left others to climb to the top of a mountain while he went for a swim in a pool and connected with the spirits of place there, a meeting that was essential to make certain connections had he but realised it beforehand.

Last week I became aware that I was picking up a lot of negativity from others, and not only reflecting it back and feeling I wasn’t being true to myself, but becoming affected inside over a couple of incidents. I meditated quite a bit on this and came to a realisation that some of the fault was mine for developing a habit of using slightly cynical humour to start a conversation. I remembered how as a regular train user in my late teens, it was really hard to talk to anyone until the train was delayed. Since at that time more trains were delayed than not, sometimes by several hours, I started a lot of conversations. I could also start conversations in a queue, or with the weather, or any adverse circumstances. ‘Beautiful day’ rarely seemed to get people talking in the same way!

So I realised I had to change. I had to clear the negativity on all levels, and try to cultivate a new, sunnier way of being with strangers, and also with people I see regularly that carry a black cloud on their shoulders. I don’t want to be that person any more, and neither do I want to return their negativity in any way.

Having made this decision, a day or so later I got the tummy bug that was going around here. As I am no stranger to tummy bugs having had a few from canoeing days in summer, I just resign myself to it, take the Arsenicum Album, drink lots of fluids, and luckily it didn’t last very long. A day later I am feeling fine again, and was surprised on this occasion when another friend said she thought being sick was far worse than a cold. I would be still suffering a week later from a cold, but realised on this occasion I felt better than I had before I got ill. Lighter, more energy, eyes wide open, happy. I was amazed! How could this be?

Then I realised – because I had released all the negativity. Would it have cleared so quickly had I not been ill I wonder?
(I’m glad to say I’m still feeling really good while writing this, over a week on…)

Garden Thoughts

I have been weeding the garden over the past couple of weeks, with winter pruning finished and everything bursting into growth, and it has proved very enjoyable, especially now that M is able to entertain herself running about and picking daisies while I work. It has also been very helpful for crystallising some of my thoughts on developing the garden.

I have mentioned before that I have some big plans for the garden, and would like to work closer with nature spirits. I have started to draw up scale plans for the changes I want to make – so that I can see which plants will be kept in current positions and which will need moving or propagating. It will hopefully save me from planting things in annoying places this year! However I have not yet made any direct contact with nature spirits, and even opportunities to try are not presenting themselves to me. This is unusual, so temporarily left me puzzled and a bit frustrated. But weeding has proved wonderful for gaining insights, and this is what I have learned.

1. I need to develop my own intent for the garden, and to carry it through.
This is particularly important for me as when I was ill, then pregnant, then with a baby, I basically asked nature to look after the garden for me. If I am to develop the garden as I want it to be, then I need to focus my will and intention – not defer it to anyone else. Nature can only then work to bring it into growth.

I am reminded of how Nature itself defines a garden, as told to Machaelle Small Wright. (Behaving as if the God in All Life Mattered.)

“A garden is any environment that is initiated by humans, given its purpose, definition and direction by humans, and maintained with the help of humans. For nature to consider something to be a garden, we must see humans actively involved in all three of these areas. … Nature does not consider the cultivation of a plot of land as the criteria for a garden. Nature considers a garden to exist wherever humans define, initiate and interact with form to create a specialised environment.”

If I do not supply the definition, direction and purpose, then I cannot interact effectively with nature and nature would not define my small plot of land as a garden. Strangely this definition does not require plants to be present…

2. Letting wild corners into the garden is good.
Creating habitats and going as far as I can to actively include wildlife in the garden gives me a commitment to nature. However, I have been having a dilemma over providing a properly ‘wild’ area into which I do not enter. At the risk of writing a very long blog post this week, there are two quotes which have made it clear how important it is to have a wild area.

From ‘The Gentleman and the Faun – Encounters with Pan and the Elemental Kingdom’ by Robert Oglivie Crombie, known as Roc. Chapter 13 – The Wild Garden by Peter Caddy

“Roc’s work with the nature spirits also pointed out to us the importance of the wild garden. In Britain, where there is a tradition of fine gardens, almost invariably an area of each is left wild. There is also a folk custom among farmers of leaving a bit of land, where humans are forbidden to go, as the domain of the fairies and elves.
“One Sunday afternoon, Roc had accompanied a group of us on a visit to a local walled garden at Kincorth. At one end of the landscaped area ran a stream with a wooden bridge across it. On the other side was a wild place, cool and dense in contrast to the neat and colourful beds on our side. Roc, obeying an impulse, wandered off across the bridge and into the foliage. Later he told us that beyond a certain point in the area he had suddenly felt like an intruder.
“There Pan appeared beside him and told him that this part of the garden was for his subjects alone and was to be so respected. He said that in any garden, no matter the size, where the full cooperation of the nature spirits is desired, a part should be left where, as far as possible, man does not enter. The nature spirits use this place as a focal point for their activity, a centre from which to work.
“Pan also told him that at Findhorn we did not have enough respect for our wild garden. Indeed, we had developed the habit of crossing this area when we went to the beach for a swim, and right in the middle of it Dennis had set up his tent. You can imagine how quickly he removed both himself and his gear on hearing this message! Thereafter, we made sure to enter this area as seldom as possible.”

From ‘Behaving as if the God in All Life Mattered’ by Machaelle Small Wright. p122-3 – What’s This Crap About Fairies?

“I had read that at Findhorn there was an area set aside specifically for the use of nature spirits. It was a place where humans didn’t enter and it was left wild. I felt that I should do the same at Perelandra. So I picked a spot on the edge of the woods next to the garden and roped it off as a gesture, designating that this area was now to be exclusively for nature spirits. After roping it, I stood in the middle of the area and invited the nature spirits to come to this special place that I called the “Elemental Annex.” Immediately, a great rush of energy streamed in and I heard, “Finally! Now we can get down to business!” Feeling very much out of place, I gingerly stepped out of the area. The Elemental Annex was now the base of operations for the Perelandra nature spirits.”

My own garden is not large, the back part being around the size of a tennis court or a standard swimming pool, and the front very much smaller. There are hedges down both sides which need cutting regularly, and there simply are no areas where I do not go. But there is a cow field behind us, which has a corner behind my garden that is rarely touched, as well as other wild areas close by. I am hoping that these will suffice at least initially. And meanwhile, the plans I am making are putting wildlife as a much higher priority than it has been in the past.

3. Nature values active love rather than a hug.
Sending plants love won’t get them watered in a drought. My side of any partnership with nature is to do the work – and having not done so over the past few years, I apparently have a bit of ground to make up to prove that I am committed to the garden.

I have been left wondering how much of the proof of my commitment is to nature, since nature can surely read our intentions better than we can ourselves, and how much it is to change my own mindset and make sure I am committed to the job!

4. I can ask for help once I have established what it is I want.
I look forward to this stage! I will admit to being surprised and disappointed to have to make all the decisions myself, as I fully expected nature to tell me where particular plants would be happiest, and how they would like to be grown together, as other writers have reported. But clearly I am not at this stage in my own development yet – and I am also a reasonably capable gardener with many years of experience (seventeen in this garden alone) so I need a little faith and belief in myself! I also need to remember point 1, that I set the intention and definition for the garden. I appear to have some way to go to really develop this in myself.


I said at the start that weeding had formed part of the insight and led to the rest following on – my intent was strong enough to remove a weed, without doubts, without wondering if I should or if it was balancing something else or otherwise needed in some way. I didn’t want it growing, and that was sufficient. No guilt needed. I also found it easier to get on with the job if my energies were not being split into worrying whether I was doing the right thing in removing particular types of weeds. (Some are obvious thugs, others have good qualities but have got out of hand.)

So here are my intentions for the redeveloped garden:
Front – all the herbs I want to eat, enough fruit to supply our basic needs with surplus for friends, and enough vegetables to always have something we can pick for dinner.
Back – fun, exciting, peaceful, beautiful, and full of wildlife. A space we all want to spend time in, just being, sitting, relaxing and enjoying ourselves. A place where nature and natural cycles can be honoured. It looks likely that most of the grass will go, in order to make a pond and ‘stream’ garden and of course the whole thing will have to be designed around the garden railway the rest of my family want…